The US Air Force's Law of War

The U.S. Air Force's International Law: The conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations, is supposed to govern the actions of all U.S. pilots. This binding domestic law puts U.S. participation in the bombing of Yugoslavia in a terribly bad light. The laws being violated by the USAF in its bombing of Yugoslavia are its own laws. What follows are word-for-word excerpts from this binding U.S. military law manual.

Since WWII and the Nuremberg trials, personal responsibility for acts of war have been codified explicitly into all branches of U.S. military service. The USAF says, "...combatants individually are responsible for following the law of armed conflict which obligates their nation."

The law is especially precise regarding what may and may not be attacked. "The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of town, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited. (Article 25, Hague Regulations)."

"In order to insure respect and protection for the civilian population and civilian objects the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives..."

In the case of the U.S. pilots that bombed the two columns of Albanian refugees, the New York Times reported that "From the start, the pilots were worried about the possibility of civilian casualties. ...there was reason to think that many refugees might be on the road."

But attacks must be called off if there is any danger of harm to noncombatants. "Those who plan or decide upon an attack must...(C) Refrain from deciding to launch any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

NATO, claiming that Dubrava Prison was being used as a staging area for Yugoslav army and police, bombed the complex three times over two days in spite of the presence of 1,000 mostly ethnic Albanian prisoners. Vladan Jojic, an inspecting magistrate who viewed the aftermath called the attacks, "One of the biggest crimes of modern civilization."

Air Force law has an unambiguous prohibition against such an act: "In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used."

- John LaForge