A Critical Decision Point on the Battlefield - Friend, Foe, or Innocent Bystander

34 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2008

See all articles by Matthew V. Ezzo

Matthew V. Ezzo

Department of the Navy

Amos N. Guiora

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: February 2008


Unlike traditional war in which soldiers fought soldiers and tanks attacked tanks, the unseen enemy in the dark shadows of the back alleys characterizes the post 9/11 world. Commanders are facing many challenges targeting battlefield combatants. What increasingly complicates the battlefield commanders' dilemma in determining the status of the individual standing before him is what we describe and define in the article as voluntary human shields. Commanders are faced with many decision points once terrorist organizations or enemy forces introduce human shields into the equation. Battlefield commanders must determine whether the human shield is friend, foe, or innocent bystander. After making this determination, the commander then must consider the impact of potential civilian casualties or the perception that civilian casualties occurred. These decisions often have to be made by the commander on the ground with little to no time to contemplate the pros and cons of the decision.

We have chosen to address this issue for multiple reasons: commanders demand clear criteria regarding the status of those in the zone of combat; the innocent civilian must be protected; international law demands the soldier be trained in distinguishing between the innocent and non-innocent and the community supporting terrorist organizations must know that the truly innocent will be protected (to the greatest extent possible). The security of those individuals on the battlefield depends on the analysis of the commander. The commander must assess the security rights of the individuals on the field of battle (guided by international humanitarian law) versus the security of the soldiers he commands and the security of the state he represents. The commander needs tools to toss into his proverbial pack to take with him on the battlefield. In the article, we assert the tools must consist, at a minimum, of the following factors: 1) intelligence information; 2) analysis of the conduct of the specific individual; 3) battlefield circumstances at the relevant time; 4) the commanders' prior experience; 5) the conduct of additional individuals in the surrounding area. Senior military commanders, policy and decision makers, academics, the general public and those supporting terrorists must address this issue. Otherwise, the killing of innocent civilians is as inevitable as the tragic death of a soldier unequipped to determine who is the enemy.

Keywords: Voluntary Human Shields, Terrorism, International Law, International Humanitarian Law, Combatants, Commander, Asymmetric Warfare, Military Targets

Suggested Citation

Ezzo, Matthew V. and Guiora, Amos N., A Critical Decision Point on the Battlefield - Friend, Foe, or Innocent Bystander (February 2008). U of Utah Legal Studies Paper No. 08-03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1090331 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1090331

Matthew V. Ezzo

Department of the Navy ( email )

Amos N. Guiora (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
801-581-4295 (Phone)
801-581-6897 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.utah.edu/profiles/default.asp?PersonID=6581&name=Guiora,Amos..

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