DoD to Investigate Special Operations' Compliance with War Crimes Laws

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U.S. soldier provides security near a blockade on a road toward Manbij, Syria
A U.S. soldier provides security near a blockade on a road toward Manbij, Syria, June 20, 2018. (Timothy R. Koster/U.S. Army)

The Pentagon Inspector General has announced plans to evaluate how well U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command are following rules aimed at preventing war crimes.

In a memo issued Monday, the IG said that the investigation will focus on the commands’ efforts to carry out Defense Department directives aimed at reducing "potential law of war violations when conducting operations."

The evaluation would also determine whether the two commands reported alleged war crimes in accordance with DoD policy, the IG said.

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The memo, first reported by Task & Purpose, did not state what prompted the evaluation or whether it would be expanded to other commands. It gave no timeframe for when it would be completed.

However, the initial contacts listed by the IG for the evaluation suggest that the focus will be on the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The evaluation will begin with CENTCOM and SOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida; U.S. Forces-Afghanistan; and Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria.

"We may identify additional organizations and locations during the evaluation," the IG said.

The DoD's handling of war crimes cases under the Uniform Code of Military Justice came under scrutiny amid a series of pardons and commutations issued by President Donald Trump.

Three Army soldiers -- 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of ordering troops to open fire on two unarmed Afghan civilians; Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, charged with killing a suspected bomb maker in Afghanistan; and 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner -- were among those who were either pardoned or had their sentences commuted by Trump.

He also intervened in the case of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, who was acquitted at a court-martial of killing an Iraqi prisoner. Trump reversed the Navy's decision to demote Gallagher.

In July, the DoD issued guidance on responsibilities for implementing its Law of War Program and set up a working group to ensure compliance.

The DoD directive requires all commands "to act consistent with the Law of War's fundamental principles and rules," including compliance with the Geneva Conventions against torture and observing "the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction, proportionality, and honor."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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