A West Point law professor has resigned after arguing that fellow legal scholars who criticize the war on terrorism are “treasonous” and should be arrested, interrogated and even attacked as “unlawful enemy combatants.”
William C. Bradford resigned from his post on Sunday following an uproar over a paper titled “Trahison des Professeurs” (Treason of the Professors), published in the National Security Law Journal in July.
In an e-mail to The Washington Post, Bradford confirmed that he had resigned from his position as assistant law professor but doubled down on his argument.
“I stand by my article,” he wrote, arguing that it had been “taken out of context” by people who had not read it. “I would suggest that the best approach to the problem I outline is competition in the marketplace of ideas.”
Bradford also claimed he had received anonymous “death threats,” but declined to share them with The Post.
His resignation was first reported by the Guardian. Bradford had only been hired on Aug. 1 and had taught five lessons of a common-core law course, according to the newspaper.
The Guardian first drew attention to Bradford on Saturday, pointing out that his paper went as far as to advocate attacking “Islamic holy sites” as part of a “total war” on Islamist radicalism.
But it was Bradford’s call for legal scholars “sympathetic to Islamist aims” to be imprisoned, “attacked” and, it is implied, even killed that has drawn the most criticism.
In his paper, Bradford argued that a “clique of about forty” legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism — from his footnotes, their ranks appear to include professors at top schools like Harvard, Princeton and NYU — comprise a “super-weapon that supports Islamist military operations” aimed at “American political will” to fight.
Using the acronym CLOACA, which ostensibly stands for “critical law of armed conflict academy” but is also the name for an animal’s anus, Bradford’s article painted these supposedly “treasonous” scholars as “a Western Fifth Column” of Islamist terrorism that should be treated as such. He even went as far as to suggest that the law schools where they work or the journalists they speak to could also be targeted.
“As unlawful combatants for failure to wear the distinctive insignia of a party, CLOACA propagandists are subject to coercive interrogation, trial, and imprisonment,” he wrote. “Further, the infrastructure used to create and disseminate CLOACA propaganda — law school facilities, scholars’ home offices, and media outlets where they give interviews —are also lawful targets given the causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited. Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, CLOACA scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are — at least in theory — targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism.”
Even before the Guardian’s article, academics had complained about Bradford’s article.
Jeremy Rabkin, a law professor at George Mason — the same university that publishes the National Security Law Journal — slammed the piece as “outright libel” and an unfounded “conspiracy.”
“It is outright libel to call such scholars ‘combatants’ in the service of Islamist aggression,” Rabkin wrote in a response posted to the journal’s Web site. “The only defense for such accusations is that they are too preposterous for anyone to take seriously. It is the contemporary equivalent of the John Birch Society claiming, in the 1950s, that Secretary of State George Marshall and then President Dwight Eisenhower were Communist agents.
“… At one point, the article says there are at least forty such scholars working for this cause,” Rabkin wrote. “That is moving from claims about treason to claims about conspiracy. But conspiracy, like treason, is not just an emotive word but a criminal charge and it requires evidence of common purpose or a common plan of action.
“The article does not supply evidence to support its conspiracy claim.”
Robert Chesney, a University of Texas professor whom Bradford’s article appears to list among the “treasonous” scholars, expressed a similar mix of emotions.
“It’s very hard to take this seriously except insofar as he may actually be teaching nonsense like this to cadets at West Point,” Chesney told the Guardian.
In an article picking apart Bradford’s argument piece by piece, Matt Ford, an associate editor at the Atlantic, pointed out that “Treason of the Professors” may not even be Bradford’s most controversial work.
“Since 2014, according to what is apparently his LinkedIn page, he has been circulating an article for publication entitled, ‘Alea Iacta Est: The U.S. Coup of 2017,'” Ford wrote on Monday. “The abstract is strewn with thinly-veiled references to President Obama, asking, for example, ‘What conditions precedent would be required before the American military would be justified in using or threatening force to oust a U.S. president attempting to “fundamentally transform the United States of America”?’ Although describing it simply as a ‘heuristic test of a proferred theory,’ it also wonders aloud, ‘Is such a duty incumbent upon the U.S. armed forces at present?’ That’s a disquieting question for a faculty member to pose, when he’s charged with instructing the nation’s officer corps.”
In his e-mail to The Post, Bradford wrote that “Alea Iacta Est” (ominous Latin translation: “the die is cast”) was “an unpublished work, the purpose of which is to examine whether a coup might be possible in the U.S. and how best to ensure that it never occurs. Comments about this article are clearly made by those who haven’t read it.”
Similarly, Bradford told The Post that “Treason of the Professors” outlines “a spectrum of modalities preferable to more coercive measures,” such as arrest, interrogation or outright attacks. “My article indicates that only true propagandists inciting attacks could be subjected to the sanctions I mention, and this parallels existing case law I reference as well as emerging customary international law.”
“I don’t believe any faculty from these schools are committing treason,” he wrote of those footnoted in his article.
And he wrote that Rabkin is “entitled to his views, although I disagree with them, and a dialogue over these issues is a healthy way to respond.”
“I never exaggerated my military service and any claims to the contrary are false,” he said. “I was a strategic intelligence officer in the Army Reserve.”
“Also, I categorically was an NDU associate professor at the Near East South Asian Center for Strategic Studies and the National Defense College of the UAE, and [Guardian reporter Spencer] Ackerman’s attempt to create an inference that to the contrary is a deliberate smear designed to discredit me.”
Finally, Bradford explained that he resigned “because I did not want the cadets or West Point to be exposed to any increased risk as a result of the backlash over my article, and I did not wish the institution to be burdened by this or by any other distractions.”
The firestorm over Bradford’s article wasn’t completely unexpected. In a foreword to the National Security Law Journal’s fifth issue, then editor-in-chief Alexander Yesnik admitted that “This issue will not be without controversy.”
“You may find what you read here to be discomforting at times, and on a personal note, I do not agree with everything we have printed in the pages that follow,” he wrote. “But our policy has always been that we welcome scholarship from a range of views, and we hope the diverse ideas you read here — even if you disagree — will prompt you to think and respond.”
After the outcry over the article, new editor-in-chief Rick Myers apologized for the “mistake” of publishing “Treason of the Professors.”
“As the incoming Editorial Board, we want to address concerns regarding Mr. Bradford’s contention that some scholars in legal academia could be considered as constituting a fifth column in the war against terror; his interpretation is that those scholars could be targeted as unlawful combatants,” Myers wrote. “The substance of Mr. Bradford’s article cannot fairly be considered apart from the egregious breach of professional decorum that it exhibits. We cannot ‘unpublish’ it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers.”