I realize this is pretty late to post up for most people’s standards but I feel that it is forgivable since the ICRC will be continuing to run these classes all year. This is also my first post since returning from my work trip.
The ICRC had previously run a series of basic IHL courses for GOVT/NGO professionals. The first course I attended was an all-day introduction into International Humanitarian Law. This included breakaway sections, lectures and plenty of literature. Practical application exercises were certainly limited and rightfully so. There was a startlingly large portion of the class that seemingly had no idea how to navigate IHL or any understanding of the difference between host nation state law and a treaty.
To attend the follow up/advanced course (which is the subject of this blog post) you needed to have previously attended the full basic workup. My initial reaction was excitement. While I felt like I had a productive time at the introductory course, most of that productivity was derived from conversing with an IHL expert and having some sidelines with one of the instructors. I felt that by making the basic course a prereq we could put together a class of more serious IHL practitioners and policy makers which would allow us to delve into the meat and potatoes of some pretty complex topics.
I’ll even quote the event solicitation directly:
“to allow participants to delve deeply into specific issues within international humanitarian law”
Obviously I think I’ve eluded enough to conclude that I came away from the training disappointed. Upon arrival we crunched into a small conference room and were eventually rollcalled from someone’s cell phone. It was extremely casual in comparison to the badges, name placards and 1st floor accommodations received in the basic class.
Professor Gary Solis quickly launched into his lecture whilst also specifying that due to the small size of our class any questions can be asked right then and there and not at the bottom of the hour. I didn’t think this was going to be truly disruptive but was promptly disproven. There were, as it was in the basic course, a number of people who didn’t seem to grasp the basic concept of IHL. One person in particular badgered the professor with one or two policy questions, rephrasing them multiple times when he didn’t get the answer he wanted. It was obvious he was sent there not to learn but to get a policy judgment, a statement from a SME from the ICRC which could then be used to push an agenda forward.
The side conversations were openly not within the spirit of humanitarian rights and fell within the territory of lawfare as they are wont to do. One participant was arguing that we have a moral imperative to arm the jihadists in Syria better because the equipment they (the jihadists) are receiving is inadequate to mitigate the risks they face. The other was attempting to construct a narrative that wearers of the Islamist warbands in Syria were exempted from DPH due to the fact that they are commonly recognized loosely affiliated group of insurgents/rebels, however you want to couch it.
The professor during his lecture, despite his resume, had a seeming inability to reference any practical experience with IHL and instead quoted or talked about movies. The confusion persisted when he claimed the Geronimo raid killing of OBL was justified and both a morally and ethically good shoot, but the targeted killing programs ran by the Agency were war crimes.
While the advertised subject of the discussion was the act of directly participating in hostilities as a non-privileged combatant (DPH-ing), we spent an overwhelming majority of the time discussing targeted killing, which the professor erroneously claimed is only done via drone. Despite referencing the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and not the actual raid itself, which was a targeted killing done by a SOF team, he continued to persist on the subject.
The disinformation continued with the professor claiming targeted packages are made via super computer that collects all calls in Afghanistan in Iraq. Atmospherics, HUMINT or any other form of intelligence simply doesn’t play into targeting packages.
The professor also made the bold claim that IED emplacers/makers, water carriers, ammo barrers, casualty extraction teams and any non-kinetic direct support are non-targetable despite the ICRC’s very interpretive guidance declaring any persons caught enabling the prepatory, command and execution phases of organized hostile action are in fact participating.
I left the class that day having spent most of my time listening to someone discuss false info WRT targeted killing and a small minority of the time spent waxing in generalities about DPH. We did not discuss anything in this advanced class regarding DPH that we did not discuss in the basic class.
The most useful thing I received from the entire class was a copy of ICRC’s interpretive guidance on DPH. Unsurprisingly there is no new guidance on the use of PMCs in warzones as that still remains a hazy situation.