Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Combatant Status Review Tribunals and the Unique Nature of the War on Terror


Robert A. Peal


On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States, killing 2,973 innocent civilians. This was the largest loss of life on U.S. soil due to a hostile act in the nation's history. Al Qaeda, an international terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the act. Al Qaeda had been systematically targeting U.S. civilians and service members for at least the previous nine years. In response to the attacks, the United States conducted a series of military and legal actions that were highly controversial and unprecedented. As part of these actions, the executive branch claimed the authority to detain indefinitely individuals it labeled as "enemy combatants." This Note examines the procedures currently used by the United States to determine whether an individual qualifies as an enemy combatant. It then assesses the legitimacy of this process in light of the law of armed conflict, the history of military tribunals, the special characteristics of the war on terror, and practical necessity. This Note concludes that the current procedures, although technically legal, must be refined by Congress in order to address the many shortcomings therein.