Robert F. Turner

  • Professor, General Faculty
  • Distinguished Fellow and Associate Director, Center for National Security Law

Robert F. Turner holds both professional and academic doctorates from the University of Virginia School of Law. He co-founded the Center for National Security Law with Professor John Norton Moore in April 1981 and has served as its associate director since then except for two periods of government service in the 1980s and during 1994-95, when he occupied the Charles H. Stockton Chair of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. A former Army captain and veteran of two tours in Vietnam, Turner served as a research associate and public affairs fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace  before spending five years in the mid-1970s as national security adviser to U.S. Senator Robert P. Griffin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (where he anticipated by seven years the Supreme Court’s landmark INS v. Chadha decision, striking down legislative vetoes). He has also served in the executive branch as a member of the Senior Executive Service, first in the Pentagon as special assistant to the under secretary of defense for policy, then in the White House as counsel to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, and at the State Department as principal deputy and then acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs. In 1986, he became the first president of the congressionally established United States Institute of Peace.

A former three-term chairman of the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security (and for many years editor of the ABA National Security Law Report), Turner also chaired the Executive-Congressional Relations Subcommittee of the ABA Section on International Law and Practice and has chaired or co-chaired the National Security Law Subcommittee of the Federalist Society’s International and National Security Law Practice Group since 1997.

Turner has taught undergraduate courses at Virginia on international law, U.S. foreign policy, the Vietnam War and foreign policy and the law in what is now the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. In addition, he has co-taught National Security Law and advanced national security law seminars on the Indochina War and on war and peace with Moore at the Law School.

The author or editor of 17 books and monographs (including co-editor of the Center's 1,600-page National Security Law & Policy casebook, National Security Law Documents, and Legal Issues in the Struggle Against Terror) and numerous articles in law reviews and other professional journals, Turner has also contributed articles to most of the major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times and USA Today, and has been a frequent contributor to the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. In an op-ed published in the International Herald Tribune in September 1990, he and Moore were the first to call for a war-crimes trial for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and for international controls over his weapons of mass destruction, and the following month he wrote the lead story in The Washington Post Sunday Outlook Section, “Killing Saddam: Would It Be a Crime?,”  arguing that Hussein would be a lawful target during Operation Desert Storm. (His reasoning contributed to the modern legal justification for drone strikes against terrorist leaders.) Eight years later, Turner published an op-ed in USA Today, “In Self-defense, U.S. Has Right to Kill bin Laden.” In July 2007, he co-authored an article in The Washington Post with former U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General P.X. Kelley, “War Crimes and the White House,”  criticizing the use of unlawful interrogation techniques by the Central Intelligence Agency. On the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon he authored an article in The Wall Street Journal,  “Saigon’s Fall Still Echoes Today,”  noting that after the war ended, Hanoi admitted it had made a decision in 1959 to open the Ho Chi Minh Trail and start sending troops, weapons and supplies into South Vietnam to overthrow its government — just as the United States had charged. In 2010 Turner received the first “person of the year” award from SACEI, a major Vietnamese-American human rights organization.

A frequent lecturer and debater, Turner has spoken at dozens of law schools around the nation and in other fora — taking on as many as four opponents at a time. His debate opponents have included former or future deans of Yale, Stanford and the University of Chicago law schools. Following a 1987 debate against Dean Harlan Cleveland  (Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient) in which Turner defended the legality of U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras during the Reagan Administration, the host student debating societies awarded Turner the victory by an 85-to-15 percent margin.

Turner has also written and lectured widely on University of Virginia founder and America’s third president Thomas Jefferson.  In 2000-01 he chaired the Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission.  In his 2012 book Master of the Mountain, Henry Wiencek described Turner as “Jefferson’s chief scholarly defender.”

A former distinguished lecturer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Turner is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Academy of Political Science, the Committee on the Present Danger, and other professional organizations. He was selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in American Law less than two years after graduating from law school and Who’s Who in the World before he reached the age of 40. Turner has testified before more than a dozen different congressional committees on issues of international or constitutional law and related topics.


  • S.J.D.
    University of Virginia School of Law
  • J.D.
    University of Virginia School of Law
  • B.A.
    Indiana University


"In Vetoing Congress's Yemen Resolution, Trump Stood Up to a Lawbreaking Legislature." National Review, April 26, 2019.

"Gina Haspel Followed Faulty Advice in Good Faith." Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2018.

"FISA Section 702: An Unconstitutional Infringement of Executive Power," 25 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 1 (2017).

"Views on Vietnam: The Irony of the LBJ Library Vietnam War Summit." Austin Statesman, Sep. 3, 2016.

Saigon’s Fall Still Echoes Today,” Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2015.

"The So-Called 'Islamic State' and the Constitution: What Can the President Do?." (Parts one and two.) National Constitution Center Constitution Daily, Sep. 22-24, 2014.

“Calm Down and Consider the Facts,” USA Today, Jan. 20, 2014.

"Why Judge Leon’s Ruling is Wrong," Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 2013.

"First Principles: Are Judicial and Legislative Oversight of NSA Constitutional?," Engage: J. Federalist Soc’y Prac. Groups, July 2013, at 84.
HeinOnline (PDF)

"Reaction: Cyberdeterrence," 126 Harv. L. Rev. F. 181 (2013).
HeinOnline (PDF)

“Thomas Jefferson et la quete de la Paix,” in Joel Mekhantar & Raphael Porteilla, Paix et Constitutions 577 (Paris: Editions Eska, 2013).

"The War Powers Resolution at 40: Still an Unconstitutional, Unnecessary, and Unwise Fraud that Contributed Directly to the 9/11 Attacks," 45 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 109 (2012).

“The ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security: Historic Player in the Creation and Development of the Field” (with John Norton Moore), in Jill D. Rhodes, ed., National Security Law: Fifty Years of Transformation: An Anthology 9 (American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security, 2012).

“Covert War and the Constitution: A Response,” 5 J. Nat’l Security L. & Pol'y 409, 434 (2012).

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission (editor) (Carolina Academic Press, 2011).

Legal Issues in the Struggle Against Terror (editor with John Norton Moore) (Carolina Academic Press, 2010).

"U.S. Constitutional Issues in the Struggle Against Terror," in John Norton Moore & Robert F. Turner, eds., Legal Issues in the Struggle Against Terror 81 (Carolina Academic Press, 2010).

"What Went Wrong? Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Administration," 32 Campbell L. Rev. 529 (2010).
HeinOnline (PDF)

“The Constitutional Foundation for Fact Deference in National Security Cases,” 95 Va. L. Rev. In Brief 87 (2009).

"An Insider’s Look at the War on Terrorism," 93 Cornell L. Rev. 471 (2008) (reviewing John Yoo, War by Other Means).

The Surveillance Law that Matters,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 24, 2007.

"War Crimes and the White House: The Dishonor in a Tortured New ‘Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions" (with P.X. Kelley), Washington Post, July 26, 2007 at A21.

"The Power of Congress to Restrain the President’s Exercise of Military Force," ABA National Security Law Report (May 2007) [dialogue with Louis Fisher on Iraq].

"Civil Liberties in the War on Terror," University of Virginia Magazine (Spring 2007).

"Constitutional Implications of Senate 'Holds' on Treaties and Diplomatic Nominations," 11 Texas Rev. Law Pub. Pol’y 175 (Fall, 2006) [1]

"Executive Power in Wartime," Chron. Higher Ed. (Sept. 15, 2006).

To Oppose Any Foe: the Legacy of U.S. Intervention in Vietnam (editor with Ross A. Fisher and John Norton Moore) (Carolina Academic Press, 2006).

"FISA vs. the Constitution: Congress can't usurp the president's power to spy on America's enemies," Wall Street Journal (Dec. 28 2005).

"Operation Iraqi Freedom: Legal and Policy Considerations," 27 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 765 (2004).

"State Responsibility and the War on Terror: the Legacy of Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates," 4 Chi. J. Int’l L. 121 (Spring 2003).

"The War on Terrorism and the modern relevance of the congressional power to 'declare war,'" Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y (March 2002).

“How Political Warfare Caused America to Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory in Vietnam,” in John Norton Moore and Robert F. Turner, eds., The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections Twenty-five Years After the Fall of Saigon 223 (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).

“Intentional Targeting of Regime Elites: The Legal and Policy Debate,” 36 New Eng. L. Rev. 785 (2002).

“Legal Issues in the U.S. Commitment to Vietnam: A Debate” (with others), in John Norton Moore and Robert F. Turner, eds., The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections Twenty-five Years After the Fall of Saigon 99 (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).

“Postscript: William Colby and the ‘Lost Victory’ in Vietnam” (with John Norton Moore), in J. Moore and R. Turner, eds., The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections Twenty-five Years After the Fall of Saigon 465 (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).

“National Missile Defense and the 1972 ABM Treaty,” 36 New Eng. L. Rev. 807 (2002).

The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections Twenty-five Years After the Fall of Saigon (ed. with John Norton Moore) (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).

Statement. Administration’s Missile Defense Program and the ABM Treaty 143 U.S. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Hearing, July 24, 2001.

“The War on Terrorism and the Modern Relevance of the Congressional Power to Declare War,” 25 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 519 (2002).

Current Courses

No courses were found for this instructor.

All Courses

Advanced National Security Law I—Legal & Policy Issues of the Indochina War
Advanced Topics in National Security Law I & II
War and Peace: New Thinking About the Causes of War and War Avoidance