Libya: The Progression of a Failed State—From Benghazi to the Rise of ISIS

It has been over three years since the Benghazi terrorist attack took place when Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors. Since its 2011 civil war which ultimately toppled Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has plunged into the chaos of a failed state. Libya is inundated by fighting among two rival governments — one in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in Tobrok — along with various tribal militias and the Islamic State.[1] That has left the country, along with its vast network of oil fields, open to the ravages of ISIS as the new hotbed for terrorist activity.[2]

For the last year Syria has been the epicenter and basis for the Islamic State’s self-professed caliphate, however ISIS’s footprint has not only expanded in the Levant, but also internationally to Saharan Africa as well. Libya has replaced Syria and Iraq as the top military priority, especially for Europeans. In the course of the last week the United States and France have reportedly conducted military operations in Libya against the Islamic State.[3] ISIS’s rapid expansion into Libya has caught many military intelligence experts by surprise. Coupled with the political stalemate involving Libya’s two governments having competing patrons — Tripoli supported by Qatar and Turkey, while Tobruk gets the nod from the West, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — the political vacuum has enabled ISIS to gain large tractions of territory in Libya.[4]

It is estimated that ISIS dominates a 120-mile stretch of territory extending east along the coast, which is a significant achievement since this territory provides it with a relatively safe base from which to attract new recruits and plan attacks.[5]

The United Nations estimates that the group commands 2,000 to 3,000 fighters there.[6] U.S. intelligence officials estimate its fighting strength at 5,000 to 6,000 men.[7] Finally French sources claim that ISIS commands over 10,000 fighters.[8]

Current airstrikes in Libya and the small amount of U.S. Special Operations ground forces are still currently operating under the authority set forth by the decade old 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).[9] Section 2 specifies that:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.[10]

However passing a new AUMF has proved both politically and militarily contentious. Congress had the opportunity to pass a new AUMF to combat ISIS in February 2015 when President Obama sent a version to Congress.[11] [12] Republican lawmakers promptly dismissed the draft authorization as too restrictive and democrats criticized it for not repealing the still-used 2001 AUMF. The 2001 AUMF was not repealed, and a new one to combat ISIS was never passed.

During the week of February 14, 2016 President Obama authorized an attack on an ISIS training camp in Libya, targeting high-value asset, Noureddin Chouchanein, a Tunisian terrorist who facilitated the flow of foreign fighters across North Africa.[13]

“The president authorized this strike,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters. The following exchange between Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook and reporter was especially forthcoming:

Reporter: “But Peter, under what authority was this strike carried out? There is no AUMF for ISIS in Libya; no Americans were killed in the two attacks in Tunisia. Under what authority?”
Cook: “Well, again, we’ve struck in Libya previously, under the existing…authorization for the use of military force,”
Reporter: “In 2001, against Al Qaida?”
Cook: “Yes, specifically. And this — in our targeting of Chouchanein this instance. And we believe that this was based on — was legal under international law.”
Reporter: “But you’re saying that you’re using the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaida to go after ISIS in Libya?” the reporter followed up.
Cook: “Specifically, again, as a — the use of military force against ISIL is authorized by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, specifically. Just as it was — as we used it in our previous strike in Libya.”[14]

Given their loose affiliation and spawn from Al Qaeda it is understandable how security law experts can rationalize the use of the 2001 AUMF as their legal authority to continue to conduct limited operations in Libya. However if the situation ever calls for significant boots on the ground, as some experts have called for, under a new Presidential administration a new AUMF with limited scope might be possible and more effective in combating and defeating the Islamic State.


Anthony Christina is a 3L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law.





[4] Id.






[10] Id.




[14] Id.

When Does Free Speech on Social Media Cross the Line and Become Terrorism?

Social media usage—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr— by millennials to express their political and social viewpoints has spurned everything from a late night ‘Like’ by a friend to the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. Its impact and reach should not be underestimated, nor can internet postings and pictures be relegated to unimportant drivelings of disaffected dissidents and wannabe terrorists. Today’s message board commenter could be tomorrow’s suicide bomber. How far then should legal protections surrounding the First Amendment extend?

What people say behind the façade of a computer screen either under the blanket of anonymity or signed under their own names is in fact taken very serious by law enforcement authorities. Especially when such espousing and calls for violence are tantamount to support for what is commonly regarded as ‘Terrorist’ related activities.

Take for example the recent FBI arrest on November 12, 2015 of twenty-five year old Ohio hospital worker Terence J. McNeil. Mr. O’Neil was arrested in a criminal complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for 18 U.S. Code § 373 – Solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

According to court documents, in their description to the New York Times, federal authorities believed that through his postings McNeil moved away from criticism of U.S. policies to criminal acts when he began posting detailed information about military members and calling for them to be murdered. Specifically, McNeil is accused of reposting and retweeting memes and gifs from a group that titles itself the Islamic State Hacking Division, with information that was hacked and leaked which included the names, addresses, photographs and military branches of dozens of American service members, and which stated the following: “Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe.”

Mr. McNeil had a Tumblr blog website whose content has since been removed. The website Gawker, was able to screen shot some of the tweets and pictures associated with his website (as it was still electronically available at the time the Times article and federal press release were issued). McNeil’s posted content ranged from seemingly comical Islamic related religious memes and Simpsons’s jokes to violently suggestive memes advocating for murder. Posts can be seen here.

In a press release, Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division said “While we aggressively defend First Amendment rights, the individual arrested went far beyond free speech by reposting names and addresses of 100 U.S. service members, all with the intent to have them killed.”

Mr. McNeil now faces an intense criminal litigation process by the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. As it is still early in the process, surely free-speech advocates will attempt to use Mr. McNeil’s case as an example of over intrusive federal overreach when it comes to internet free speech. However if the recent Parisian terrorist attacks are any indication, the Islamic State (ISIS) is a skilled communicator at reaching their audience and attracting new members through the use of English-language social media, and the posts of its supporters should not be taken lightly.

However in an ironic foreshadowing post on Tumblr just a few months prior, when another poster asked McNeil if his account was a fair representation of him. “Somewhat about 60%,” McNeil answered. “If it was 100% I would be in jail.”


Anthony Christina is a 3L and a Resident Student Blogger for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

The Rise and Resurgence of Russia Makes NATO More Relevant Than Ever


The year 1945 ushered in the dawn of the atomic age, war ravaged Western Europe was in ruin, and the Soviet Union had begun to spread its tentacles across the continent—fast forward 60 years later and Europe is again at a crossroads as the Russian Bear begins to growl once more. The charter to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was signed on April 4, 1949 by 12 initial member states—Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States as a response to buffer Soviet influence, protect the free trade of the Atlantic seaways, and to provide for a common unified military defense network of western democracies. Today NATO has 28 member states spanning North America and most of Western Europe.

Article 5 of the Treaty provided that the member states agreed “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all,” and that following each attack, the allies would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.” The Cold War ended without a shot being fired. NATO stood guard at the gates, keeping the peace. Under that framework NATO allies have participated and provided armed air and land support in numerous conflicts during the 20th and 21st centuries including Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks changed the game. NATO pivoted to begin to focus on preventing international terrorism. However with last year’s conflict in Crimea continuing to rage well into 2015 and pro-Russian separatists still controlling large tracks of territory in eastern Ukraine, it begs the question: has NATO’s core mission and influence effectively been rendered ineffective, or better yet—paralyzed, by an ever more aggressive Russia, the likes of which continent has not seen since the the Cold War.

The public and actual perception of NATO appears to be at a crossroads. Optically appearing as a snub, it was reported, and denied by the White House that President Obama declined to meet with new NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg when he was in Washington this past week. To make matters worse, on March 25th 2015 NATO jets were scrambled to intercept four Russian military aircraft in international airspace near Baltic member states. In a series of stern warnings former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski cautioned that the new Moscow-friendly Greek government which recently attained power in Athens could paralyze NATO’s ability to react to Russian aggression in the region by utilizing its veto power to slow a possible NATO response to potential Russian aggression in the Baltic region. Consequently Brzezinski said Poland too “could be a target” along with former Soviet states such as Moldova, Georgia and oil-rich Azerbaijan.

However the dynamic of stasis in which NATO has operated in recent years, especially concerning conflicts close to its member state’s borders (2008’s Georgia & South Ossetia conflict), has created a precedent of seeming inaction with an apparent unwillingness by NATO allies to actually involve themselves when it comes to continental matters concerning Russian involvement. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes  “As a conventional military alliance, it [NATO] is ill-prepared for the “hybrid warfare” Russia has waged in Ukraine, which has been closer to a paramilitary covert action to support proxy forces than to a traditional military attack.” NATO’s customary model of member states providing to the organization traditional military units may be antiquated and outmoded.

The Obama Administration’s “ ‘unified morass,’ sharing the reluctance of European leaders to escalate the crisis by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine or tightening sanctions against Russia” illustrates why NATO action could in fact be an effective tool to quell the crisis in Ukraine and buffer potential Russian aggression if only there was unity and commitment among the leadership of member states to realize the treaty’s relevancy and re-commitment to being the vanguard of western Europe.

Anthony Christina is a 2L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law.


Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

La Apertura – U.S. Initiates Diplomatic Relations with Cuba After 53 Years

(AP Photo, File) In this Jan. 3, 1961 file photo, Cubans crowd outside the U.S. embassy in hopes of getting visas after President Fidel Castro ordered the U.S. embassy to reduce its staff to 12 officials within 48 hours, in Havana, Cuba. The U.S. broke relations with Cuba on this day, and closed its embassy.
(AP Photo, File) In this Jan. 3, 1961 file photo, Cubans crowd outside the U.S. embassy in hopes of getting visas after President Fidel Castro ordered the U.S. embassy to reduce its staff to 12 officials within 48 hours, in Havana, Cuba. The U.S. broke relations with Cuba on this day, and closed its embassy.

Cuban cigars, baseball players seeking asylum, chrome plated cars in pastels, and those thirteen days of October 1962 which almost pitted the world to the brink of nuclear war. For the past fifty-three years these are the things most Americans have associated with the Communist dictatorship of Cuba—the isolated island situated just ninety miles from Miami. On December 17, 2014 President Obama acting without Congress reversed course and began the process of shifting America’s fifty year attempt in the Caribbean of trying to exert pressure on the Castro regime to change its policies.

Cuba has always enjoyed a special legal relationship with the United States compared to other Communist regimes (probably as a result of its proximity). While formal diplomatic relations were cut in 1961 by President Eisenhower and a trade embargo issued, the United States has continued to maintain its ‘Diplomatic Mission’ in Havana and has operated its naval base at Guantanamo.

Comparatively, the United States continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the USSR throughout the Cold War and established formal relations with China in 1979 and Vietnam in 1995.

While travel to Cuba by Americans was never banned outright—as there were loopholes (it had to fall into twelve categories). Last December’s historic lifting of regulations will not only make tourism to Cuba more accessible, but begin the politically contentious lawmaking process of relaxing sanctions in the name of diplomacy and free trade against the backdrop of nation whose regime continues to have abysmal human rights violations.

Anthony Christina is a 2L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law


Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.