Home > War Journalism > Rules of Entrapment

Rules of Entrapment

By Joseph Kassabian

If a soldier fires on a speeding vehicle that is barreling towards their dismounted squad on a patrol and kills the person driving it, is that soldier a murderer? That question was asked to several soldiers today, they all answered with a resounding ‘no’. The speeding vehicle could be packed full of explosives, or just trying to run down soldiers, or just your everyday Afghan driver that somehow doesn’t see the ten or so soldiers walking around in front of them, either way it is showing threatening behavior and soldiers are supposed to be fully in their rights to defend themselves and their comrades with deadly force if needed. The soldiers were also asked that, if acting within the guidance of their rules of engagement (RoE) they shot at that same vehicle, and killed the driver, but nothing was found inside the car and he was just your run of the mill stupid Afghan driver, would the Army charge them with murder? They all answered ‘yes’. Do you see what’s wrong with this?

Everyday soldiers go on patrol, through crowded cities, rural mountains, and ramshackle villages on constant alert to everything around them. In most wars your enemy wears a uniform, in this war your enemy could be anyone and anything, that car could be packed full of explosives, that wheelbarrow could explode when you walk past it, that car speeding in and out of traffic? Behind the wheel is a suicide bomber hell bent on ramming that car of his into your armored truck, blowing him and you straight to paradise. How do we fight something like this? Easy, you keep vehicles a safe distance away, we use to just place giant red signs on our trucks that said ‘stay back fifty meters or you will be shot’ and it generally worked. Politicians somewhere decided that wasn’t very friendly, so we no longer have that sign, we are now also encouraged to interact with the population, meaning we no longer have a ‘bubble’. So when that lone man, behind the wheel of his rigged up bomb on wheels, or strapped up with explosives and a trigger in his hand, charges at you what do you do? Do you pull the trigger?

A soldier, two years ago, was charged and convicted with first degree murder in Kunar, Afghanistan after he shot a man dead on his base, which sounds like straight up cold blooded murder right? The man he shot was a local who tried to wrestle the soldiers loaded rifle out of his hands, and acting in self defense, the soldier shot him in the chest at point blank range. Now, is this soldier a murderer? The Army thought so; the soldier is now serving a life sentence, never to see his two little girls again. Is that murder or self defense? What was the Afghan’s intention once he gained control of the soldier’s rifle? These are all things that soldiers must think about before they pull that trigger.

Questions like ‘am I going to go to jail if I shoot’ should not have to race through a soldier’s mind when he’s staring down the sights of his rifle, aiming at something that very possibly could kill him and his entire squad. There’s a saying in the military, ‘I would rather be tried by twelve then carried by six’, this means I would rather face the murder charge then be the soldier too scared to pull the trigger, fuck up, and get themselves or someone else killed, when in reality you were in your full rights, as laid out by the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement, to engage and destroy that threat. The Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. is a signatory, protects soldiers engaging in armed conflict from the charge of murder, as long as the killing follows the ‘Law of Land Warfare’. Yes, I know there has been documented cases of soldiers of various countries engaging in unlawful murder during war time, the Haditha Massacre in Iraq and the recent case of the ‘Sergeant Gibbs Kill Team’ in Afghanistan , where common soldiers engaged in gruesome and brutal war crimes, come to mind, but does that mean every time a soldier kills a unarmed person they fully knew in their minds that the person they were shooting at was innocent? Of course not, and to think so is insulting to those in uniform.

Soldiers aren’t walking killing machines, no matter how much they would like to think so, they are morally conflicted, sometimes no more than teenagers, and surrounded by threats on a daily basis. The only reason they would pull the trigger is because they are trying to defend themselves or their comrades, and are promised protection by our government when they have to do so. So why are soldiers going to prison when they follow the rules of engagement to the letter? To save face? Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the face of our rebuilding efforts and prize of Afghanistan’s ‘free and fair elections’ we have fought so hard for, has gone on record saying the U.S. thinks of Afghan lives as ‘cheap’, and that they don’t care about collateral damage, so what better way to prove him wrong then to find a scapegoat? I’m not accusing the government of falsely throwing soldiers behind bars, but I am accusing them of not protecting the ones sworn to protect the very powers by which they rule. Every firefight is looked at under a microscope, every soldier interrogated like it’s the Nuremburg Trials, investigators looking for the smalls crack in the story that they can jump on. Why would a government deploy its soldiers into harm’s way, if they did not trust them to carry out their mission?

Imagine that someone is threatening your family, they may or may not be armed, but you believe down to your very bones that they will kill them unless you do something. Would you second guess yourself? What if you’re wrong? What if you’re right, but are too afraid of what will happen to you afterwards to lift a finger? If you act, and kill the aggressor, are you a murderer? Or are you a life saver?

  1. SSG F
    January 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    OH HELL YEAH!!! I totally agree with this. I want my Soldier’s to act with split second reactions to threats and thats how I train them. Unfortunantly the Government wants me to train them this way, then will crucify me when my Soldiers follow thier training. Im right on with this one Bro.

  2. Sandra, Brenden's mom
    January 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Another thought provoking, well written, piece of the ongoing Afghan pie Joe! In my very humble opinion, the best yet of your series.

    I look forward, as usual to your next instalment!


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