Special operations forces and responsibility for surrogates' war crimes
Gregory Raymond Bart
Host item entries:
Harvard national security journal, Vol. 5, issue 2, 2014, p. 513-535
This Article considers this specific issue: whether special operations forces (SOF) teams have duties under the law of war—as interpreted by war crimes jurisprudence—to investigate and to attempt to prevent war crimes by surrogate forces. It does not address duties imposed by domestic statutes or regulations. Also, given the breadth of this topic, the Article focuses on the duties of SOF teams in the field—their tactical actions—and not those of higher, strategic, or policy-level decisionmakers. For example, consider the following scenario that might arise during an unconventional warfare mission. A SOF team deploys into a foreign country in either a permissive or non-permissive environment with the mission to accomplish U.S. military objectives through, with, or by surrogates—to train, equip, advise and assist, and even lead, in varying degrees, surrogate forces in combat. Before deploying, the team knows of general rumors that some of the surrogate groups may have committed acts that would constitute serious violations of the law of war. While deployed and providing military assistance, the team hears specific rumors that the surrogates with whom they are working might be committing war crimes. No SOF members directly participate in any war crimes. Within the context of law of war jurisprudence, what are SOF’s responsibilities with respect to suspected or confirmed war crimes being committed by surrogate forces?