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.
Military and international law experts say the case against Wuterich has shown that some troops have little understanding of the laws of war and nagging mistrust of local townfolk on dusty streets and courtyards that quickly ignite into battlefields.
Although the venues of armed combat have changed dramatically since the world wars, the international covenants governing warfare have not. And, legal analysts say, there is little support for changing them and little need to do so.
Commanders, however, need to do a better job of translating the rules for modern circumstances, experts say. Haditha is not Normandy. It's small-squad fighting in tight quarters with sudden surprises demanding quick reactions.
TVNL Comment: The US can use daisy cutters, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, drones and Shock and Awe raids on civilians, but individual soldiers must learn to follow rules about how and whom to kill. We turn kids into killing machines who must dehumanize the 'enemy' - then wonder why they do what they do.