Returning to the same room where he once took exams, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III law ’80 addressed Cornell Law Students about current pressing defense issues such as Guantanamo Bay and the novel threat of cyber warfare, stressing the advantages that his background in law training provides.
After brief recollections of his time at Cornell and an overview of the vast responsibilities that lawyers in the public sector hold –– “they deploy lawyers before they deploy troops,” he said –– Lynn jumped straight into the issues that are currently of most concern to the Defense Department.
“We are making progress towards a fair and lawful detention policy and ultimately towards the closure of Guantanomo Bay,” he said, and then proceeded to explain the different categories of detainees and how their individual cases will be reviewed.
The most trying cases, according to Lynn, are the detainees who pose a “clear and continuing threat” to the American people, but who for various reasons cannot be prosecuted.
“Devising a fair, legitimate and constitutionally valid framework for the continued detention of these detainees is not easy, but President Obama views this as one of the most consequential issues of his presidency,” Lynn said.
Obama has said, Lynn claimed, that these are people who “will in effect remain at war with the United States.”
Those who fall under the category of having violated laws of war will be dealt with through military commissions, a process which Obama sought to reform to “ensure that they are lawful, fair, and effective prosecutorial forums,” according to Lynn. The Military Commissions Act of 2009, which recently passed in Congress, provides the appropriate framework for this goal, Lynn added.
Detainees who have been ordered by United States courts to be released will be discharged to their host countries, he said.
Lynn also addressed the escalating threat of cyber warfare.
“There is no exaggerating our nation’s dependence on information networks,” he said. This is especially true for the Department of Defense, where command and control of military forces, intelligence and logistics, and weaponry all depend on computer systems and networks.
The Defense Department’s 15,000 networks thus make a tempting target. According to Lynn, more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations are currently attempting to hack into U.S. systems, as well as countless criminal groups of individual technicians. Russia and China already have the capacity to disrupt elements of U.S. information infrastructure, he claimed.
As the frequency and sophistication of these attacks increases exponentially, the Defense Department now recognizes cyberspace as a domain, similar to land, sea, air and space, though the issues of national sovereignty and international law that this recognition raises remain unresolved, he said.
“Is a cyber attack an act of war?” Lynn posed as an example.
“In this cyber domain, we face enormous foundational challenges, not only to develop an appropriate legal framework, but also a coherent military doctrine,” he said.
After briefly summarizing the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lynn appealed directly to his audience, lamenting that military service and civilian government work are rarely considered by students, as they often turn to Wall Street or other management consultancies.
“We don’t offer the same kinds of bonuses, but our needs are tremendous and the opportunities to serve are every bit as dynamic,” he said. “Thus I urge you to think broadly about how you might contribute to this world, and be open to the widest range of professional responsibilities and possibilities.”
“It’s important for us to see that government service is a viable, exciting and rewarding option,” Ashley Garry ’11, co-president of Cornell National Security and Law Society, said of Lynn’s closing remarks.
Lynn was brought to Cornell through by the NSLS and the Berger International Speaker Series.
“The issues Lynn addressed about Guantanamo Bay raise significant questions on due process that are important, as lawyers, to consider,” said Cornell Law School Dean Stewart Schwab. “It must be very inspiring to see an alumnus in such an important position.”
“I might not have used my training formally, but it’s been invaluable to me on Capital Hill, in think tanks, and now in the Pentagon,” Lynn said as he began his closing remarks.
“No matter what you do, your degree you are working so hard towards will serve you well,” he said.