Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Updated: Author resigns from West Point following paper legitimizing attacks on scholars who question terror tactics

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[Note: This post has been updated with new information about the author’s resignation.]

Following criticisms of a 2015 paper which proposed attacks on scholars who question the government’s handling of the war on terror, the author has resigned from his post at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The nearly 200-page paper, “Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column,” appeared in the National Security Law Journal of George Mason University School of Law, in Virginia. It was written by William C. Bradford, who is a somewhat controversial figure.

In the paper, Bradford, assistant professor at the United States Military Academy, criticizes U.S. academics who specialize in armed conflict and claim “that the Islamist jihad is a response to valid grievances against U.S. foreign policy”:

Rather than lending their prodigious talents to the service of their nation, these legal academics, for reasons ranging from the benign to the malignant, have mustered into the Islamist order of battle to direct their legal expertise against American military forces and American political will. This psychological warfare by American elites against their own people is celebrated by Islamists as a portent of U.S. weakness and the coming triumph of Islamism over the West.

In the article (presented here in full, starting on p. 278), he focuses his arguments on “a clique of about forty contemptuously critical LOACA scholars (“CLOACA”).”

At stake, Bradford asserts, rather implausibly:

Western civilization has been “seize[d], encompass[ed], and ambush[ed]” by a Fifth Column, and will be vanquished, subsumed within the Caliphate, and ruled by Shari’a if a trahison des professeurs goes unchecked.

The solutions he poses are not for the faint of heart, and range from loyalty oaths for university faculty receiving federal funding, firing “disloyal radicals”, charging them with treason, and prosecution:

Culpable CLOACA members can be tried in military courts: Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that “[a]ny person who . . . aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things . . . shall suffer death or . . . other punishments as a court-martial or military commission may direct;” the Rule for Court Martial 201 creates jurisdiction over any individual for an Article 104 offense.

Finally, Bradford argues that the institutions, homes, and media outlets of these scholars could be considered “lawful targets” for attacks:

…the infrastructure used to create and disseminate CLOACA propaganda—law school facilities, scholars’ home offices, and media outlets where they give interviews—are also lawful targets given the causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited. Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, CLOACA scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are—at least in theory—targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism.

The editor at the time, Alexander Yesnik, may have anticipated the piece would ruffle feathers. In a foreword to the issue, he wrote:

This issue will not be without controversy. You may find what you read here to be discomforting at times, and on a personal note, I do not agree with everything we have printed in the pages that follow. But our policy has always been that we welcome scholarship from a range of views, and we hope the diverse ideas you read here — even if you disagree — will prompt you to think and respond.

The journal likely got more of a response than it anticipated, as it has now done a volte-face. In an August 24 letter to readers, Rick Myers, the journal’s new editor in chief, wrote, in part:

This past spring the Journal made a mistake in publishing a highly controversial article, Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column, 3 Nat’l Sec. L.J. 278 (2015), by William C. Bradford, who is currently an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy. As the incoming Editorial Board, we want to address concerns regarding Mr. Bradford’s contention that some scholars in legal academia could be considered as constituting a fifth column in the war against terror; his interpretation is that those scholars could be targeted as unlawful combatants. The substance of Mr. Bradford’s article cannot fairly be considered apart from the egregious breach of professional decorum that it exhibits.  We cannot “unpublish” it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers.

Moving forward, the current Editorial Board is committed to generating legitimate scholarly debate, representing all points of view, in the area of national security law. However, we have learned from this experience, and we recognize the responsibility that attends our publication decisions. The process of selecting articles is one our Editorial Board takes very seriously, and we are re-examining our selection process to ensure that we publish high quality scholarly articles.

Among those who objected to Bradford’s piece was Jeremy Rabkin, a faculty member at George Mason and scholar of constitutional law, who wrote in a piece included with the August 24 letter:

When an article proposes to arrest law professors and bomb law schools and nearby TV studios, it’s not engaging in “controversy,” but slipping into an alternate universe. It’s not “discomforting.” It is bonkers. The journal could not reasonably have expected readers to “respond” — unless to ask, “Are you out of your minds?”

Rabkin also argues that Bradford’s claims of treason against the legal scholars he names amounts to “outright libel.”

Although some may wonder why the journal didn’t simply retract the article, according to the guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics, there aren’t grounds in this case. Here’s COPE’s advice on the subject:

Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:

• they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)

• the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)

• it constitutes plagiarism

• it reports unethical research

According to the Guardian, a West Point representative said Bradford started working there in August. In 2005, Inside Higher Ed reported he resigned from Indiana University after misrepresenting his military service.

We received a statement today from a West Point spokesperson who told us Bradford has resigned:

Dr. William Bradford resigned on Sunday.  He was hired on Aug. 1, 2015 and taught 5 lessons from Aug. 17-Aug 27.  He taught a common core law course.

On Friday, West Point released a earlier statement about the paper:

Dr. William Bradford was hired on August 1, 2015 at the U.S. Military Academy.  His article in the National Security Law Journal titled “Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column” was written and accepted for publication prior to his employment at West Point. The views in the article are solely those of Dr. Bradford and   do not reflect those of the Department of Defense, the United States Army, the United States Military Academy.

We’ve attempted to contact Bradford, and new EIC Myers, and will update this post if we learn more.

Hat tip: Brian Leiter via Kent McKeever

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Written by amarcus41

August 31st, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Comments
  • Ken Pimple August 31, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    So Bradford wants us to become the enemy. Great idea.

  • Jim Palmer August 31, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I am not a legal scholar, nor have I read the article. It sounds like the ravings of a fascist bully, but that is not the question. Is the legal argument sound, and if not why? A democracy cannot thrive by denying or burying significant voices. This is like denying John Yoo’s rationale for torture. These are real voices that deserve a hearing and serious response. I am interested in this response, who listens to it and what the effect is.

  • Sharon O'Connor August 31, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    There is no justification for returning to the McCarthyism experienced by this country during one of its least democratic periods. What legal argument did Yoo make that made it ok for the US to emulate repressive forces in Europe in WWII and Argentina several decades later. The independent study commissioned by the American Psychological Association found that those psychologists who condoned torture, and that is what it is no matter what you call it, colluded with the administration to give it the appearance of support by an entire professional field, which was not diligent enough in its protection of its integrity.
    If you mean that not looking at Yoo’s rationale makes us vulnerable to the same thing again, I agree. But that rationale needs to be denied. It cannot be accepted. And Branford needs to be called out for what he is. A danger to democracy.

  • Kelly August 31, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I dunno, I think advocating for the assassination of colleagues by government forces because they happen to be just war theorists is a pretty clear violation of professionalism that falls right into a misconduct label. (COPE guidelines also seem very limited when it comes to dealing with humanities publishing concerns, especially once you start talking about papers that aren’t based on human subjects research, animal model research, or other SCIENCE-Y sorts of things.)

  • Richard Morey August 31, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    If he said that professors “can be tried in military courts” for their speech then it seems like he is wrong as a matter of law. No court would find that this is Constitutional; it would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. There is thus plenty of evidence (e.g., case law) that “that the findings are unreliable,” and I can’t see why a retraction would not be allowed. To disallow retractions in a case like this would mean, essentially, that the law means nothing because any interpretation of it is acceptable.

  • Neuroskeptic August 31, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    The current editors should explain a) just how this piece came to be accepted (including who made that decision) and b) how they have ensured that this will never happen again (i.e. are the people responsible for accepting this paper still associated with the journal? Might they be re-hired in future?)

  • Joel T. Luber August 31, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    For those who don’t know how law reviews work, they are typically run very differently than journals in most science and humanities fields: The editors are all law students! The top editors are third years and the lower editors are second years. The former editor in chief of this journal has since graduated law school and will likely never be involved in this or any other law review again. This year’s top editors were likely lower editors last year, but it would be hard to say what their participation in the acceptance process was last year. Most law reviews (including this one) have faculty advisers, but the extent of their participation is hard to know as well.

    The great Richard Posner has a much better explanation of the dysfunction of the law review process: http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/November-December-2004/review_posner_novdec04.msp

  • herr doktor bimler August 31, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    The full story of Bradford’s previous career-related fraudulence is long and colourful.

    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/12/06/bradford

  • MusterMark September 1, 2015 at 9:48 am

    “The editor at the time, Alexander Yesnik, may have anticipated the piece would ruffle feathers. In a forward to the issue, he wrote:”

    This should read “In a foreword to this issue, he wrote:”
    It’s probably an ‘auto-correct’ error, but nevertheless, it may be a good idea to correct it!

    • Shannon Palus September 1, 2015 at 10:08 am

      fixed, thanks!

  • Chris M. September 2, 2015 at 1:25 am

    The editor and journal staff obviously weren’t curious about the curious abbreviation “CLOACA” that resulted from the awkward string of words “Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy” that Mr. Bradford used as a label for those scholars that he held in disdain. Mr. Bradford then found occasion to use “CLOACA” 292 times in his piece.
    The word “cloaca” comes from Latin and means sewer. In contemporary use in zoology, the cloaca is the posterior opening on reptiles and birds. Unlike mammals which have separate anal and vaginal openings for the intestinal and reproductive tracts, for reptiles and birds, the cloaca serves as a combined anus and vagina (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloaca). So it follows that in Mr. Bradford’s word play, he was referring to these scholars as a bunch of anuses and vaginas.
    My understanding is that the law review literature is largely supported by, or at least affiliated with law schools, and the journals are largely run by law students themselves, with a faculty member in the wings. As mentioned above by Joel Luber, it’s a bizarre system where the law review reviewing and editing is considered a teaching tool. The publishing of, and subsequent recanting of this piece should make a rich case study for law students (and CLE speakers). So Mr. Bradford may have provided a service after all.

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