“Combat Rules To Protect Civilians are Revised,” an article in today’s New York Times, describes the Pentagon’s parsing of the rules for killing civilians.
Potential recruits should understand that they will be put in the position of killing civilians, including children, and that this is not something the psyche bears easily.
No matter how you rationalize killing to yourself, or someone rationalized it to you, you will know it is wrong.
The Pentagon has revised a 2015 manual for waging combat while obeying the international laws of war, tightening rules for when it is lawful to fire on a military target even though civilians — from human shields to workers at weapons factories — are nearby.
The changes, announced late on Tuesday, are the second time this year that the Defense Department has modified its Law of War Manual in response to criticism that portions were inaccurate or dangerous. In July, it overhauled sections of the manual to better protect journalists working in battlefield areas.
“Protecting civilians in armed conflict is critical, and it’s important that our legal guidance is clear and practical,” said Jennifer O’Connor, the Pentagon’s general counsel. “This version of the manual provides greater clarity and also reflects important developments such as the president’s recent executive order on civilian casualties.”
Several legal specialists, who had criticized the old version of the manual as misrepresenting the law of armed conflict in ways that endangered civilians, praised some of the changes but criticized others as still muddled.
Adil Haque, a law professor at Rutgers University who has criticized the manual, offered a mixed review of the changes, saying, “It’s definitely an improvement,” but arguing that some parts still fell short.
The changes focus largely on a section of the manual that discusses the principle of proportionality. In war, it can be lawful to fire on a military target even if civilians are nearby and will be killed as a consequence, but only if the anticipated collateral damage is proportionate to a legitimate military objective.
The original version of the manual suggested that commanders could exclude entire categories of civilians when analyzing proportionality before firing, like civilians used as human shields or those who accompany an enemy force, like mechanics and food workers. They also could exclude civilians working at a place that helps sustain the enemy, like an arms factory.
The manual now makes it clear that commanders selecting targets must take into account the anticipated harm to such civilians, too. In particular, it says that involuntary human shields are fully protected under the proportionality rule.
That is “very important since that category includes both civilians actively forced to shield military targets and civilians passively used to shield military targets without their knowledge or consent (think of the armed group that fires rockets from a residential neighborhood, hospital, etc.),” Mr. Haque wrote in an email. “That’s pretty much every civilian in ISIS-controlled cities and towns.”
Still, the revised manual suggests that voluntary human shields and civilians employed in jobs related to military objectives may count for less in such analysis than ordinary civilians. Some scholars object to the ideathat the law of war permits using a sliding scale when deciding how much protection various civilians will receive.
Mr. Haque found it “really disappointing” that the revisions did not alter a section that states that when there is doubt about the identity of potential targets, commanders need not presume civilians are there.
The manual is the latest in a series that trace back to the Lieber Code, devised by Francis Lieber, a legal scholar and philosopher, whose instructions for war were issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln.
The Pentagon had worked on developing the current manual for two decades and finally issued it in 2015 after a difficult bureaucratic process; other parts of the government with expertise in international law, like the State and the Justice Departments, did not sign off on it.