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Professor Robinson’s students honored by U.S. military for their work on interdicting foreign terrorist fighters

May 26, 2015

Many law school students sign up for classes hoping to learn practical skills, but for Professor Paul H. Robinson’s students, their hands-on work has led to real results: helping the United States stop foreign terrorist fighters.

Six students in Robinson’s spring course, “Using Law to Interdict Foreign Terrorist Fighters” — Nicole Bredariol, Jennifer Cilingin, Adria Cranman, Bethan Jones, Tory Morris, and Sierra Shear — received an official commendation recognizing their “outstanding support to Special Operations Command Pacific,” and each was awarded a special military coin from the SOCPAC Commander.

The commendation certificates note that the students’ “diligent contribution to the study of certain foreign laws and procedures directly contributed to the accomplishment of multiple national security objectives and will be of great use for years to come.”

“This is a tremendous honor for our students and Professor Robinson,” said Wendell Pritchett, Interim Dean of the Law School and Presidential Professor.  “Their cutting-edge legal work has had a real impact on national security.”

The course is one of a series of projects by Penn Law’s Criminal Law Research Group (CLRG), which Robinson directs. In this instance, Special Operations Command Pacific invited Robinson to spend time with them last year at their headquarters in Honolulu to discuss the problem of how the military could interdict terrorist fighters seeking to join the Islamic State.

SOCPAC contacted Robinson in part because one of CLRG’s previous projects had been to help draft a criminal code for an Islamic country based upon principles of Shari’a, which has been recently enacted. That earlier project was commissioned by the United Nations Development Program.

From those Honolulu meetings came the idea of how Penn Law’s CLRG could help SOCPAC’s partner nations identify and prosecute potential foreign terrorist fighters on existing laws. By the end of the year Robinson had the project planned and the students began active work in January.

“I have always found these consulting projects to be such an education for me that I thought they could be a great educational opportunity for my students as well,” said Robinson, the Colin S. Diver Professor of Law. 

CLRG undertook four pilot projects in which it developed mechanisms by which the military could use the domestic law of foreign countries to interdict foreign terrorist fighters. With these pilot projects complete, they developed a program by which such projects could be replicated by other legal teams around the globe.

“Working with CLRG this year was a life-changing experience,” said Sierra Shear, a second-year student at Penn Law. “As a team, we used our legal research and writing skills to accomplish national security objectives that we hope will help keep our nation and our allies safe.”

And for Shear, the project gave her the special satisfaction that can come from complex legal work. “The experience of taking a project from the seed of an idea to a finished work product that will be used in practice was fulfilling and rewarding in a way I did not expect to experience as a law student,” she added.

For his work in organizing the project, Robinson has been nominated for the military’s prestigious Eugene G. Fubini Award, which is given to the private sector advisor who has made the most significant contribution to the Department of Defense and its mission each year.

His nomination for the award, which originated with SOCPAC, has now been forwarded by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), of which SOCPAC is a part, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense as PACOM’s sole nominee for the award.