The Lexington Principles Project seeks to organize leading scholars, practitioners, and military experts to begin implementation of the 9/11 Commission Report's recommendation regarding the development of a universal approach to the treatment of detainees. The Project's aspirations were not limited to simply identifying the prevailing international norms in this area – an effort which had already been thoroughly performed by several prominent international organizations. We set our sights on a far more difficult task: the development of a set of principles based on international law that would be capable of being internalized into the domestic law of the United States and other common law countries as binding and enforceable legal obligations. This was certainly an ambitious proposal, but one which the Project's membership was eager to embrace given the need for clarification demonstrated by the problems that have arisen in the global struggle against international terrorism.
The domestication of international human rights law is presented with unique difficulties in the United States because of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence with respect to the domestic effect of non-self-executing treaties. The foundational international instruments supporting our call for enhanced detainee rights are all non-self-executing, which means that while they do "bind the United States as a matter of international law," they do not by themselves create rights that are enforceable in U.S. courts. This is an interpretation strongly opposed by many of the world's top international law experts, and powerfully persuasive arguments exist for an alternative understanding under the U.S. Constitution; however, the U.S. Supreme Court has unfortunately disagreed with these assessments. In the case of Medellin v. Texas, decided on March 25, 2008, the Court unequivocally recognized the validity of the distinction, making it difficult for any initiative seeking domestic enforcement of obligations based on international human rights law. To the extent that this impediment exists internationally, we hope that the Lexington Principles will offer a solution to the problem.
*The Lexington Principles Project is an independent international project on the rights of detainees hosted and supported by the School of Law and Washington and Lee University Institute for Honor. Its members hail from many different disciplines and institutions.