In the past 20 years, the issue of crimes of war has entered the spotlight in ways it never has before. Recent conflicts in Iraq and the Abu Graib scandal have brought to the public’s attention the issue of American military members committing crimes of war against other countries.
A recent report highlights a book written by Eddie Gallagher. Eddie Gallagher faced accusations of war crimes stemming from the death of an Islamic State prison in Iraq in 2017. He was accused by his teammates in the deployment, and his book and subsequent speaking engagement insists on his innocence.
What is a war crime?
It may seem like there are no rules once war is declared. Because of the violent, competitive nature of war, it can be hard to image hat a crime might look like in that context, but there are distinct categories of war crimes.
Although there is no single document codifying all war crimes in one place, the UN points to the Hague Convention and the Geneva convention to establish the norms that constitute crimes of war.
In addition to naming actions against civilians and non-military targets, the United Nations documentation on the issue points to a number of violations that can constitute crimes of war, including:
- Wilful killing
- Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments;
- Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health;
- Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly;
- Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power;
- Wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial;
- Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;
- Taking of hostages
There is both a contextual element to these crimes (the actions took place during armed conflict) and a mental aspect (there was an element of free choice and intentionality involved).
What should you do if accused of a war crime?
Life imprisonment or even the death penalty could result from a conviction for a war crime. Working with a lawyer experienced in military crime defense could save your life and keep you out of prison. The first thing to do is talk with an attorney you can trust. Fight back aggressively against these charges.