Law of Armed Conflict
Military Law of Armed Conflict and War Crimes Defense Attorney
The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) or Law of War, is international law established to regulate the conduct of armed hostilities. The Law of Armed Conflict are rules established by civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction —while not impeding the effective waging of war. Scholars and rational individuals might question the “inherent practical difficulties and implausible competing interests” laid out in the preceding sentence.
The basis of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) are derived from both customary international law and treaties. Much International law is based on practices that nations have come to “agree and accept” as being legally required, and establishes the “traditional rules” that govern the conduct of military procedures in armed conflict. The U.S. Constitution (Article VI) states that treaty obligations of the United States are the “supreme law of the land.” Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that international law, including customary international law, are part of U.S. law. Therefore, treaties and agreements which the United States enters into have equivalent legal status as domestic laws penned by the U.S. Congress. Consequently, all individuals subject to U.S. laws must observe the United States’ Law of Armed Conflict obligations as do other civilized and supportive countries.
The upshot —is that servicemembers in the U.S. Armed Forces should have a working understanding of the Law of Armed Conflict rules and make every reasonable attempt to comply with LOAC rules while in combat operations. Persons who violate Law of Armed Conflict rules may be held criminally liable for war crimes and face Courts Martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Have You, or a Loved-One Been Accused of LOAC?
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Battlefield Circumstances can bring about Law of Armed Conflict
Combat, by its very nature, is synonymous with chaos. Kill or be killed. Be it a planned operation or a routine patrol suddenly gone-bad, the situation where your very life was at stake and you acted as any other U.S. servicemember would have could still results in criticism: even an LOAC accusation. Members of the local population may present a politically-motivated after-action critique and evaluation that could bring about Law of Armed Conflict accusations. LOAC cases are usually political where one or more servicemembers end up as unlucky pawns in a geo-political debate many levels above their pay-grade – but still must defend themselves. These cases are winnable. servicemembers (or any rational human being placed in a similar circumstance) simply do not have the time to pre-plan their possible reaction when suddenly and unexpectedly coming under small arms fire, mortar fire, or IED attack – – – while minutes prior were driving a routine patrol, conversing with local civilians, etc.
Easy to Accuse – But difficult to Prosecute when well-defended
U.S. servicemembers are often caught up in lose-lose predicaments. U.S. patrols are often brutally attacked by insurgents, who wear no identifiable uniforms and don’t operate under any international rules whatsoever. U.S. servicemembers, under unexpected attack, must fight back to protect their life and the lives of their fellow servicemembers, often with just seconds to react —without the luxury of time to make detailed decisions about what might “look right” or who can we not return fire on and still adhere to always-changing “rules of engagement.” Unfortunately, these insurgent-instigated combat skirmishes can lead to LOAC charges because the insurgents often have cooperative civilians pre-staged in high places purposefully video-taping and photographing the insurgents’ attacks for political purposes and insurgent-recruitment.
Photos & Videos can Result in: “Law of Armed Conflict Accusations”
There were two photos that are thought to have determined the outcome of the Vietnam conflict:
- The first photo – was the dramatic photo taken by Eddie Adams that later won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 – and had nothing to do with U.S. servicemembers. That is the infamous photo of South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Nguyễn Văn Lém snapped by Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968 on a Saigon street.
- The second photo – was of Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road near Trảng Bàng, Vietnam, after a napalm bomb was dropped on the village of Trảng Bàng by a plane of the Vietnam Air Force – NOT a U.S. airman. It was taken by Nick Ut on June 8, 1972 and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
Upshot? – Modern-day urban warfare is always subject to image-capture and video recording. These days, every person on the planet has a camera or video camera in their pocket or purse thanks to cellphone technology. The insurgents, individuals in the local population, or your own helmet-cam or sunglasses-cam may provide the images, that when taken out of context, can put a servicemember in an awkward situation at best — or worse — result in a publicly-aired, and media-tried war crimes accusation.
Law of Armed Conflict and War Crimes Accusations
Having served U.S Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, VA as a Former Federal Prosecutor, and other posts in and around Washington DC where no one seems to take a step without clearing the move with a PR firm or media consultant. Military Law Center is fully aware that defending War Crimes cases can be extremely difficult to effectively defend. But these cases are very winnable. To be effective, however, not only will a skilled, military law attorney need to be on his or her game in court, but must not lose control of properly defending ones client from a simultaneous media-prosecution, when required. Law of Armed Conflict and War Crimes accusations are often exaggerated and blown out of proportion by overseas media and U.S. media as well. Both are likely to attempt to convict a “war criminal” publicly without a proper presentation of the real facts. While life is rarely fair, competent and skilled representation can help you level the playing field.