International law can be a challenging tool to use in the fight against terrorism. One reason the use of international law to fight terrorism is a challenge is due to the fact that there is no way to uniformly interpret international law and apply it to each sovereign state. “There is no supreme inter­national judicial body with the inherent right to interpret international law for states” (Casey & Rivkin, 2006). So while the United States is bound by international law, it is free to interpret it the way it wants (Casey & Rivkin, 2006). The opinions and interpretations of lawyers can change the way the U.S. or other countries handle international laws (Casey & Rivkin, 2006). Since there is no international Supreme Court, each state must act in good faith when they interpret international legal requirements (Casey & Rivkin, 2006). There is, however, an International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the United Nations. The United States does not belong to either court (Casey & Rivkin, 2006). So international law sets up rules and courts, but the rules are open to wide interpretation and the courts do not appear to have any real power over states.

Another example where international law regarding terrorism is ambiguous is the treaty rules governing administrative detention under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under these rules, states may detain a civilian without bringing charges against them if that person poses a security threat to that state (Deeks, 2009). The ambiguity of this rule lies in the determination of what defines a threat to the state. “Embedded in these rules is the unstated requirement that a person must be detained based on the particularities of his situation” (Deeks, 2009, Pg. 407). A person may be detained under these rules if they are a member of a particular group (Deeks, 2009). Membership in a particular organization or groups may be enough for a state to incarcerate an individual for an undetermined amount of time without legal representation due to their label as a threat. It is mostly left up to each government to decide how to determine if a foreigner is a threat to their state security (Deeks, 2009). Additionally, there is no guidance from international law on the right to appeal the state’s detention. According to Deeks (2009), Article 43 is silent on the accused right to appeal.

It seems that international law should provide more guidance to each government. With much of the international laws left to the interpretation of each government, there is little uniformity in the application of the laws. The detention of terrorists should come with the right to appeal the detention by agreed upon means in international law.


Casey, L. A., & Rivkin, D. B. (2006). International Law and the Nation-State at the U.N.: A Guide for U.S. Policymakers. Retrieved from…

Deeks, A. S. (2009). Administrative detention in armed conflict. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, 40(3), 403–436.

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