Prosecuting the War on Terror

Subject LAWS70327 (2014)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2014.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 7 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2014.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: The total class time is between 24 and 26 hours.
Total Time Commitment: Not available
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge:

Applicants without legal qualifications should note that subjects are offered in the discipline of law at an advanced graduate level. While every effort will be made to meet the needs of students trained in other fields, concessions will not be made in the general level of instruction or assessment. Most subjects assume the knowledge usually acquired in a degree in law (LLB, JD or equivalent). Applicants should note that admission to some subjects in the Melbourne Law Masters will be dependent upon the individual applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

The Melbourne Law Masters welcomes applications from students with disabilities. The inherent academic requirements for study in the Melbourne Law Masters are:

  • The ability to attend a minimum of 75% of classes and actively engage in the analysis and critique of complex materials and debate;
  • The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and to critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  • The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students who feel their disability will inhibit them from meeting these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact the Disability Liaison Unit:


For more information, contact the Melbourne Law Masters office.

Phone: +61 3 8344 6190

Subject Overview:

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration embarked upon its self-declared ‘War on Terror’ which included the establishment of Military Commissions to try some of the detainees in Guantánamo Bay. The subject involves a critique of the Bush Administration’s approach to trials by Military Commissions and contrasts the system with prosecutions of terrorist offences in United States civilian courts both pre and post-9/11. The subject also considers policy approaches of the Obama Administration – particularly the massive increase in drone strikes in preference to taking physical custody of targeted personnel and transferring them to Guantánamo Bay. Students in the subject will discover that there are viable and effective alternatives to trial by Military Commissions which still guarantee basic fair trial rights. The lecturers combine extensive practical trial experience with detailed understanding of relevant legal regimes making the subject a dynamic learning experience.

Principal topics will include:

  • Challenges of prosecuting terrorist offences
  • Alternative trial proceedings
  • United States criminal law and counter-terrorism legislation
  • Terrorism trials in United States civilian courts
  • United States Military Commissions: establishment, subject matter jurisdiction and trial procedures
  • Trials before United States Military Commissions
  • Decision to close the Commissions and options for future cases
  • Capture or kill: the increasing use of drone strikes in the War on Terror.
Learning Outcomes:

A student who has successfully completed this subject should:

  • Understand the alternative legal frameworks for the prosecution of terrorist offences in the United States (US) and the underlying policy grounds for each of them
  • Be conversant with US domestic counter-terror legislation, the relevant procedural standards in US domestic criminal trials and the leading US counter-terror cases
  • Be aware of the purported legal bases for the establishment of the US Military Commissions and be able to critically evaluate the US Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in relation to the Commissions
  • Comprehend the major criticisms of the US Military Commissions (both substantive legal and policy criticisms) and be in a position to argue for or against those criticisms
  • Be aware of the case law of the US Military Commissions, including the proceedings against Australian David Hicks.
  • Take-home examination (100%) (5 – 8 September)
  • 10,000 word research paper (100%) (15 October) on a topic approved by the subject coordinator
Prescribed Texts:

Core subject materials will be provided free of charge to all students. Some subjects require further texts to be purchased. Details regarding any prescribed texts will be provided prior to the commencement of the subject.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Links to further information:

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