It is the U.S. militarys efforts against al Qaeda and associated forces that has demanded most of my time, generated much public legal commentary, and presented for us what are perhaps the weightiest legal issues in national security. It is the topic I will spend the balance of my remarks on tonight.
The United States government is in an armed conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces, to which the laws of armed conflict apply. One week after 9/11, our Congress authorized our President to to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations and individuals responsible for 9/11. President Obama, like President Bush before him, as Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, has acted militarily based on that authorization. In 2006, our Supreme Court also endorsed the view that the United States is in an armed conflict with al Qaeda.
Therefore, all three branches of the United States government including the two political branches elected by the people and the judicial branch appointed for life (and therefore not subject to the whims and political pressures of the voters) have endorsed the view that our efforts against al Qaeda may properly be viewed as an armed conflict.
But, for the United States, this is a new kind of war. It is an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy. And, given its unconventional nature, President Obama himself a lawyer and a good one - has insisted that our efforts in pursuit of this enemy stay firmly rooted in conventional legal principles. For, in our efforts to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda, we cannot dismantle our laws and our values, too.
The danger of al Qaeda is well known. It is a terrorist organization determined to commit acts of violence against innocent civilians. The danger of the conflict against al Qaeda is that it lacks conventional boundaries, against an enemy that does not observe the rules of armed conflict, does not wear a uniform, and can resemble a civilian.
But we refuse to allow this enemy, with its contemptible tactics, to define the way in which we wage war. Our efforts remain grounded in the rule of law. In this unconventional conflict, therefore, we apply conventional legal principles conventional legal principles found in treaties and customary international law. As in armed conflict, we have been clear in defining the enemy and defining our objective against that enemy.
We have made clear that we are not at war with an idea, a religion, or a tactic. We are at war with an organized, armed group -- a group determined to kill innocent civilians.
We have publicly stated that our enemy consists of those persons who are part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or associated forces, a declaration that has been embraced by two U.S. Presidents, accepted by our courts, and affirmed by our Congress.
We have publicly defined an associated force as having two characteristics: (1) an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda, and (2) is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.
Our enemy does not include anyone solely in the category of activist, journalist, or propagandist.
Nor does our enemy in this armed conflict include a lone wolf who, inspired by al Qaedas ideology, self-radicalizes in the basement of his own home, without ever actually becoming part of al Qaeda. Such persons are dangerous, but are a matter for civilian law enforcement, not the military, because they are not part of the enemy force.