Monday, March 06, 2006

In memory of Ed Cummings

Like Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris and many, many others in the world of public international law, here and abroad, I was saddened to learn that Ed Cummings had finally succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting. He was a superb lawyer, careful, thoughtful, and intelligent. He will be greatly missed. I reproduce below Chris's post:

In Memory of Edward R. Cummings
by Chris Borgen

David Kaye, a State Department lawyer who is on leave as director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Whittier Law School, wrote to tell me that Edward R. Cummings, a long-time lawyer at the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser has passed away. Ed was not the type of guy who is often mentioned on blogs. He wasn’t an academic celebrity. He wasn’t a bomb-thrower. He was a quite simply a great lawyer. George Washington University Law School, his alma mater, has posted an obit and links to the remarks of Rep. Tom Lantos and to a symposium that was held in his honor.

Following are some thoughts written by David Kaye:

Much of the blogging and academic community may be unfamiliar with the name Ed Cummings. But within the U.S. government – and throughout foreign and defense ministry legal offices around the world – Ed’s name has been well-known since he first joined the American delegation to the Geneva negotiating sessions that led to the adoption of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.Early in his career, he wrote major academic pieces on the rights and obligations of occupying powers and the treatment – and criminal punishment, where warranted – of prisoners of war, giving him early and well-deserved notice (particularly among Israeli lawyers coping with the still-new occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai). After serving as a JAG officer in the Army’s international law section in the 1970s, Ed joined the Office of the Legal Adviser (“L”) at the State Department in 1979. He worked on African affairs for some time but then returned to the political-military issues that were, for him, the most rewarding.Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Ed led the office’s political-military section as an Assistant Legal Adviser. He became well-known throughout the government as one of the leading experts in all areas of the jus ad bellum, jus in bello (occupation, POWs, weapons, etc.), foreign assistance and foreign relations law more generally, intelligence law, and many other bread-and-butter issues for L lawyers. He was a uniquely capable negotiator, developing important relationships with individuals across agencies, governments and international organizations (especially the ICRC). From 1995 to 2000, he served as the legal adviser to the U.S. Mission in Geneva, further deepening his renown as a model U.S. government lawyer.

Ed’s role – particularly in the difficult years following 9/11 – will probably remain below the radar of most historical accounts of why decisions evolved as they did. A committed public servant who devoted his career to advancing the protections of civilians and the military in times of war, Ed’s views during the administration’s consideration of such matters as military commissions and the application of the Geneva Conventions were based on his commitment to international law, the well-being of American troops and the humane treatment principles at the heart of humanitarian law. But he was never shrill and he was always constructive. What do we do with detainees who are captured in the war on terror? Ed led internal discussions of this question long before it became the topic of active academic dialogue. For those in the trenches of the early debates – especially over military commissions and application of the Geneva Conventions –Ed’s ideas, expertise, creativity and engagement were an inspiration behind many of the positions taken by State and military lawyers.Throughout his career, Ed earned numerous awards, too numerous to mention. The Government of Canada even gave him an award previously reserved for Canadian nationals. But the one thing that the awards quite failed to capture was his commitment to those who worked for him and with him. This commitment was not altogether unique, but it was at another level. His pride in seeing his “subordinates” – Ed was never heard referring to a junior lawyer as anything other than “the expert on this subject” – succeed was limitless. He pushed his lawyers to be their best, to be involved closely with their clients, to provide legal advice that was not only sound but also useful, creative and moral. It seems that every single lawyer who worked for him over the years believed that he was the best boss they ever had.

Ed passed away last Monday at 57, leaving behind a legion of disciples and admirers, more friends than one could count, an attitude toward life (optimism begins with good spin), and a contribution to public service – in the form of treaties and laws that bear his fingerprints – that will long endure.

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