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U.S. Troops Need Better Training On Laws Of War, Experts Say

Publication Date: 
January 15, 2012
Source: 
Los Angeles Times
Author: 
Carol J. Williams

Professor Allen Weiner spoke with Carol J. Williams of the Los Angeles Times on the law of war and the difficulty of distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

The court-martial of Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich at Camp Pendleton for his role in two dozen civilian deaths in the Iraqi village of Haditha has highlighted a legal peril for modern military personnel: determining who is the enemy.

Troops these days fight in tense, foreign enclaves where terrorists wear no uniforms and take cover among women and children. They are on a mission to engage the enemy but are expected to hold their fire against civilians, a sacred tenet of international law.

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"I don't see a legal change that's going to fix this problem," Allen S. Weiner, a professor of international law at Stanford, said of the difficulty of distinguishing innocent civilians from similarly clad insurgents like Al Qaeda militants fighting on ideological or religious grounds rather than on behalf of a nation.

"If you want to say let's make it easier for soldiers to kill civilians, that's inconceivable. The whole point of the law of war is to protect civilians," said Weiner, a former State Department official who represented the United States in litigation at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.