This past summer, the Department of Defense published it's new instruction manual for waging war, the Department of Defense Law of War Manual. It's a massive, nearly 1,200 page document that, as the Washington Times puts it, "tells commanders the right and wrong way to kill the enemy."
Among the hundreds of pages is a section that defines "journalist." It says, "In general journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents." In this new manual, "unprivileged belligerents" is virtually indistinguishable from the phrase it replaces, one with which every American is familiar: unlawful enemy combatant.
As there ave been recent incidents in which terrorists posed as journalists to carry out attacks, the DOD has added them to the list of individuals they're willing to kill without too many questions. What's the problem with this? Well, it's hard to know where to begin.
For starters, in this age of American drone attacks, there's no way to confirm whether an identified journalist is just that, or whether they're merely posing as such for nefarious purposes. Rather than confirm a journalist's identity, it seems the DOD's new approach is to shoot first and ask questions later. More and more, it seems, the American military is less and less interested in avoiding civilian casualties. Possibly even more troubling that unmanned drone assaults on innocent people is the far-reaching implications this new approach could have on our ability to learn first-hand what's really going on in these war-torn places around the world.
It is becoming increasingly rare that experienced journalists are willing to embed themselves into these dangerous areas around the globe to tell stories no one else is. Knowing now that they could potentially be targeted, rather than accidentally killed, will likely give even more of these brave individuals pause before going on assignment. The result may be fewer journalists being killed in action, but will almost certainly result in less factual and unbiased information coming out of these areas.
On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a classified U.S. military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over two dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff: