Saturday, February 27, 2021

Special Ops & War Crimes

In January of this year, the Inspector General’s Office from the Department of Defense issued a memo saying an inquiry had been submitted to investigate whether  U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) were in line with the Pentagon’s “law of war program”. Essentially, the Inspector General’s Office wants to conduct an investigation to ensure CENTOM and SOCOM have not engaged in or enabled any war violations under code of U.S. military conduct. The trouble with investigating potential war crimes committed by the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), is that investigations are typically overseen by JSOC; very rarely are cases taken on by Navy investigators. If JSOC is overseeing Seal Team 6 operations, which are highly classified clandestine missions, it is fair to say Senior Navy officials may have doubts in JSOC finding any wrongdoing. The issue of JSOC oversight paired with maintaining highly sensitive mission material from Special Ops teams, access to case information like civilian casualties becomes unattainable. 

Should there be more oversight with Special Ops, this could hinder the effectiveness of the teams. Former members of Seal Team 6 had said that their teams, while potentially over-utilized at times, thrive when given flexibility and cover under shadow. Many Pentagon officials see clandestine operations as better to free from scrutiny. If the SOF need the ability to operate with little oversight in order to retain flexibility, so be it. Others in the DOD disagree. 

With regards to the current investigation underway, the Inspector General’s Office will focus the evaluation on operations in Afghanistan. Everything under CENTCOM is under scrutiny for the investigation, although Defense officials have said the investigation should not be a confirmation that any war crimes were officially committed. Some speculation has risen if the investigation is in response to servicemen recently pardoned by former President Donald Trump. The individuals pardoned were servicemen accused of killing of civilians and drug use, among other crimes. 

With the IGO’s investigation underway, President Biden may be signaling a move towards accountability in military operations, attempting to distance himself from President Trump’s rhetoric and attitudes towards military conduct. While Biden himself is now under scrutiny for his administration’s bombing in Syria, a shift towards accountability may have its merits. The necessity for SOF to operate loosely and discretely will however hinder the likelihood of finding any evidence of wrongdoing. During the remainder of the IGO’s investigation, CENTOM and SOCOM must remember that while the Special Forces are a useful tool for the U.S. military in precise delicate matters, oversight is still required.

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