The Columns

W&L Transnational Law Institute Produces Guidelines on Treatment of Detainees

— by on October 17th, 2008

The Lexington Principles on the Rights of Detainees proposes a body of international guidelines intended to help guide legislators in the United States and abroad in developing due process standards to govern the treatment of detainees.

A product of W&L’s Transnational Law Institute, the Lexington Principles is authored by a non-partisan and apolitical group of W&L law professors, alumni, lawyers, military officers and friends in various disciplines outside the University.

As evidenced by numerous court cases and years of litigation involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, considerable uncertainty exists about what minimum standards of protection should be afforded detainees apprehended in the global effort against terrorism.

Central to the Lexington Principles is the proposition that there is a fundamental human right to physical liberty afforded under both the U.S. Constitution and international law, and that this right is protected by the guarantee that no deprivations will occur without due process of law. Although based on international law, the principles have been specially designed to facilitate adoption into the domestic legal systems of the United States and other common law countries.

“Civilized nations now agree that you can’t simply throw somebody into the dungeon with no chance to challenge the detention,” says Lexington Principles Project chair and W&L alumnus Brooke Lewis, “and you can’t mistreat the prisoner, no matter what the alleged offense.”

Both presidential candidates have stated their opposition to the mistreatment of detainees, so it is expected that in January, 2009, no matter which party wins the White House, the new administration will be looking to address detainee issues. The Lexington Principles Project hopes to assist in that effort by helping shape a re-commitment to human rights at home and abroad with respect to the treatment of detainees.

As Colonel Tom Greenwood (USMC-Ret.), a member of the Lexington Principles Project Steering Committee, observes, “We have an important window of opportunity to help the United States restore its proper role in the international community when it comes to the treatment of detainees. Human rights is not a partisan issue.”

The idea for The Lexington Principles Project was born during W&L’s 2007 Institute for Honor Symposium titled “Moral Responsibility and the Modern American Presidency.” Speeches by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, architect of the Dayton Peace Accords that helped end the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, and Mark Drumbl, Class of 1975 Alumni Professor at W&L’s School of Law, and director of the Transnational Law Institute, inspired a discussion that led several W&L alumni and faculty to take steps to address the issue of detainee detention and treatment.

Drumbl comments that the Transnational Law Institute was pleased to be involved in the Lexington Principles Project, and that “the extraordinary drafting work of David Jordan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, led to a well-reasoned, concise, helpful, and creative document.”

For additional information about the origins of the Lexington Principles Project and a copy of the Lexington Principles, please see the group’s Web site: www.lexingtonprinciples.org.

For details of the Transnational Law Institute see the Web site: www.law.wlu.edu/transnational