Capt. Joseph Hoelz – who currently serves as Fleet Judge Advocate at U.S. Fleet Forces Command – has been awarded the first-ever Rear Admiral Horace B. Robertson Prize for International Law from the U.S. Naval War College’s Stockton Center for International Law (SCIL).
Hoelz received the award for his scholarly article entitled, “Islamist Terrorism and the Classical Islamic Law of War.” His selection for the prize also was confirmed by Navy JAG Vice Adm. John G. Hannink.
“It is certainly an honor to be recognized,” said Hoelz. “I’m hopeful that my article is helpful to practitioners, like me, who want to learn more about this critical issue.”
The annual prize, which was first established this year, is given to the author of an original, previously unpublished article, who is judged by SCIL and the Navy JAG to have submitted an outstanding entry. It is open to all judge advocates, including Reservists and retirees, in the armed forces of any country. The award is named in honor of Robertson, who served as the Navy JAG from 1975 to 1976, and was a prolific scholar in the law of armed conflict and law of the sea.
Hoelz’s article provides readers with a basic understanding of Shari’a law, describes Islam’s teachings on key principles of the law of war, and shows how the interpretation of Shari’a law relied upon by Islamist terrorists generally contradicts that of mainstream Islamic scholars.
“The association between Islam and terrorism has been at the forefront of our national debate for more than 20 years,” writes Hoelz in the article. “Many misunderstandings exist about what Islam, and specifically Shari’a law, teaches about terrorist acts and the waging of war.”
Before submitting his article for consideration, Hoelz took time to learn more about Robertson. Following retirement from the Navy, Robertson remained a leader in the field of international law as a Professor of Law at Duke University and the author of many highly influential articles. Hoelz learned that Robertson served as a member of the U.S. delegation at the two sessions of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea that produced the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Robertson also was a lead author of the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. Additionally, Robertson was the Charles H. Stockton Professor of International Law at the Naval War College for 1991 and 1992.
Hoelz, who hails originally from New Ulm, Minnesota, also has extensive international law experience. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University Of Minnesota School Of Law, and a Masters of Law from Columbia Law School. In addition to numerous shore tours, Hoelz previously served as the Staff Judge Advocate for Carrier Strike Group Ten aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), where he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He subsequently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where he served in the Legal Operations Directorate for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 as the Deputy Director, and as the Officer-in-Charge of the Justice Center in Parwan, Afghanistan’s national security crimes court. Hoelz also has previously served as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for U.S. Pacific Fleet; the Chief of Operational Law at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and the Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General – National Security Law.
As the U.S. military withdraws troops, aircraft, and weapons systems from the Middle East throughout this summer, Hoelz says his study of the Islamic law of war is especially timely. While the reach of the Taliban grows throughout the region, Hoelz believes it’s critical for U.S. leaders to better understand how Islamist organizations view the world.
At the conclusion of his article – which will be published in the U.S. Naval War College's International Law Studies journal – Hoelz argues that, “we cannot win a war against an enemy we do not know.”
“Policy makers must educate themselves on Islamic law, the competing political interests, and Islamist terrorists’ ideology and motivation,” Hoelz writes. “This is not a struggle that can be won through the use of military force or by western democracies alone. It is a battle of ideas, beliefs and information that requires a unified effort.”