The West Point Professor Who Contemplated a Coup
A controversial law professor resigns after calling his intellectual opponents treasonous, and perhaps exaggerating his credentials.
On Monday, West Point law professor William C. Bradford resigned after The Guardian reported that he had allegedly inflated his academic credentials. Bradford made headlines last week, when the editors of the National Security Law Journal denounced a controversial article by him in their own summer issue:
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. 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.
The article is titled Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column. It’s a dense treatise, totaling some 184 pages in length, including 776 footnotes. But the central thrust of the article is a bold claim: A group of U.S. legal scholars is helping ISIS undermine America from within.
Casual readers could be forgiven for thinking the article is poorly thought-out satire. After all, Bradford’s name for these legal scholars is CLOACA, a scientific term for a type of animal orifice. (The term is ostensibly an abbreviation for “counter-law-of-armed-conflict academy;” he wields his backronym with the same sinister tones that James Bond reserved for SPECTRE.) But somewhere around Bradford’s claim that CLOACA “is responsible for the creation of the most important strategic weapon in the Islamist arsenal,” you realize he’s actually serious.
According to Bradford, these CLOACA scholars (try saying that aloud with a straight face) are wielding their expertise in “the service of Islamists seeking to destroy Western civilization and re-create the Caliphate.” Bradford does not provide an exhaustive list of names, but Jeremy Rabkin, a George Mason University law professor, inferred it from his footnotes:
Among those cited are: Gabriella Blum of the Harvard Law School, a former military lawyer for the Israel Defense Force; Ryan Goodman of NYU Law School, now serving as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Defense; Michael Scharf, a professor at Case Western Law School, who served as a legal advisor to the Iraqi government for the trial of Saddam Hussein and before that in the Legal Advisor’s office at the State Department; and Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose book on the ethics of war has been assigned at U.S. military academies for decades.
Why, you might ask, would these law professors betray their country? Bradford offers a variety of unconvincing explanations. Among the nefarious acts CLOACA scholars (that never gets less ridiculous to type) are guilty of are “skepticism of executive power,” “professional socialization,” “pernicious pacifism,” and “cosmopolitanism.”
None of these are criminal acts or behaviors, of course. But that seems to be a technicality when Western civilization is at stake. “This radical development,” Bradford declares, “is celebrated in the Islamic world as a portent of U.S. weakness and the coming triumph of Islamism.” (He cites no source for this claim.)
To suppress this “fifth column”—which is his actual term for fellow academics with whom he disagrees—Bradford offers a range of options. First, he suggests introducing loyalty oaths and firing “disloyal scholars.” Next, he recommends charging them with material support of terrorism and even treason. He even suggests treating these American academics as “unlawful enemy combatants,” a legal term used to deny Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters the protections of U.S. and international law.
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.
Yes, even “the law schools that employ them”—presumably places like Harvard and Yale—could be legitimate military targets. So, too, could their homes, where their families and children live. Even a journalist like myself could be a lawful military target if I happen to quote one of these professors, Bradford argues:
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.
Perhaps you’re hesitant to imprison or kill American legal academics for criticizing the War on Terror. But be forewarned, your affinity for basic human rights and the Constitution will turn America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland:
Slavish adherence to a dysfunctional rule-set is a suicide pact, and what seems illiberal today will be overdue the day after Islamists immolate U.S. cities with nuclear devices. The goal of the West is neither territorial nor imperial: it is simply to discredit Islamism and destroy the will of Muslims to fight on its behalf, thereby to make possible, if they allow it, a civilizational coexistence, or, if they will not, to wipe Islamism, and if need be its adherents, from the earth.
One central flaw in this argument among many is its assumption that ISIS poses an existential threat to the United States.
Let’s say I accept, for the sake of argument, the idea that the United States should arrest, torture, and kill legal scholars who criticize the fight against an existential threat. American history is replete with extralegal acts performed in the name of national security, Bradford reminds us. “As Lincoln underscored, the rule of law, and even the Constitution itself, must, in extremis, yield to preservation of the nation,” he writes, also citing the experiences of World War II and the Cold War.
But an “existential threat” is, literally, a threat that could end the existence of the United States. Does ISIS count? In the eighth century, the early caliphates conquered a vast empire stretching from Spain to Central Asia. ISIS says it wants to follow their example, but it has not yet come close to replicating their success. Most of the group’s victories came against a fragile and corrupt Iraqi government to its south and Syrian rebel groups depleted by four years of civil war to its west. Its forces have yet to successfully defeat a stable country’s armed forces.
That doesn’t mean ISIS isn’t reprehensible or dangerous, especially to those under its control in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Its members have committed numerous crimes against humanity, including the attempted genocide of the Yazidi people. But does ISIS—today, at this moment, in 2015—pose an existential threat? Not even close.
That leads to its second flaw: legitimizing the worldview of ISIS and Osama bin Laden. Bradford reinforces the caliphate’s favored narrative by framing his argument with the Song of Roland, a medieval French ballad about an eighth-century battle between Charlemagne and a Muslim army from Spain. Bradford’s intent is to depict a centuries-long “clash of civilizations.” He cites an unusual amount of non-legal history for a law review paper. Framing both Bradford’s argument and ISIS propaganda is a flimsy, superficial history of the Islamic world:
On 9/11, a quest for global domination begun in the 7th century entered a more violent phase, and Islamists, heartened by U.S. restraint in response to a generation of probing attacks, regained the offensive. All strategies that advance the Islamist goal are divinely sanctioned, and armed force, which Islamists have employed in various forms for 1400 years on fields of struggle from Roncesvalles to Granada, Jerusalem to Vienna, New York to London, and Baghdad to Kabul, is part of this strategic portfolio.
In a single paragraph, Bradford elevates ISIS to the same level as the Ottoman Empire and the caliphates of yore. He conflates four suicide bombers in the London Underground with the armies of Suleiman the Magnificent marching into Austria. It’s hard to imagine ISIS taking offense. “A learned scholar in the West’s most prestigious military academy is comparing us to Saladin and Suleiman!”
Little mention of the Muslims fighting ISIS or dying at the group’s hands can be found. In a footnote, Bradford generously tells readers that “the phrase ‘Islamists’ references only individuals and groups who use or advocate force to recreate the Caliphate; it does not denote all Muslims.” The remainder of the paper largely forgoes this attempt at nuance. “Threatening Islamic holy sites might create deterrence,” he dispassionately observes in another footnote.
Perhaps even more troublingly, this article may not be the most provocative thing Bradford has written. 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.” 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.
Bradford’s resignation severs his affiliation with the United States Military Academy. But it leaves unanswered the question of how he got hired there in the first place, given his checkered past and allegedly exaggerated credentials. And it also fails to explain how a scholar pushing these ideas seems not to have raised red flags any earlier.