Wartime atrocity cases, including new criminal charges filed yesterday against eight marines in connection with the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will focus more attention on how the military handles abuse and killing of prisoners and civilians, says the Christian Science Monitor. The charges raise basic questions about how the U.S. military-justice system proceeds against alleged atrocities. Among the questions: What constitutes a “war crime”? What is the responsibility of officers of enlisted soldiers and marines who are found guilty? What punishments are being meted out?
Prosecution falls under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Law of Armed Conflict, and the Geneva Conventions. But it is the “rules of engagement” that may be most relevant for troops going into battle. Those rules may be idiosyncratic, says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker lobby. In the Haditha case, marines charged with killing civilians (including 10 women and children shot at close range) are expected to say they were fired on from houses near where their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device that killed a lance corporal.