The Lieber Code at 150

President Obama’s recent speech before the National Defense University was designed to initiate a discussion around Presidential power and the conduct of war. The laws of war have been the subject of intense academic discourse since their first systematic explication in the work of Frances Lieber. Professor Lieber first tackled the subject in a series of lectures at Columbia College’s new law school (later Columbia University) in 1861. He later refashioned the lectures into a more structured document that was subsequently issued by President Lincoln as Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, General Orders No. 100 in 1863. The 157 articles in this code treat a variety of topics related to war such as the characteristics of a soldier, the treatment of prisoners and deserters, flags of truce, and assassinations. The Lieber Code influenced the development of similar codes by other states and prefigured the adoption of the Hague Conventions on Land Warfare and parts of the Geneva Conventions.

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