The Defense Department launched a series of investigations into allegations of “war crimes” committed by U.S. forces just days after President Joe Biden took office, leading many current military members to speculate there could be political motivations behind the probes.
But regardless of why the investigations were launched, say current and former members of the military as well as legal experts associated with military cases, they are extremely likely to have a deleterious and chilling effect on morale and field operations.
According to a Jan. 25 memo from the Pentagon Inspector General, the wide-ranging probes center on two major U.S. military commands “to determine whether their leaders properly handled unspecified war crimes by American forces,” Just the News reported.
The memo does not mention any specific war crimes soldiers are accused of committing or even suspected war crimes but notes that U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, both of which are located in Tampa, Fla., are the targets of the inquiry.
CENTCOM is responsible for overseeing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The investigations will focus on how the commands put procedures in place “to reduce potential law of war violations when conducting operations,” according to Deputy Inspector General for Evaluations Michael J. Roark.
“We will also determine whether potential USCENTCOM and USSOCOM law of war violations were reported and reviewed in accordance with DoD policy,” the memo adds.
The investigations were lambasted by several people within the military community, the outlet reported.
“This is a fishing expedition to further drive the reputation of the military into the mud,” former CENTCOM officer Wolf Wagner, a three-tour Iraq veteran, told Just the News. “They want to re-litigate anything they thought was a war crime.”
Wagner went on to say that legitimate violations of the law of war ought to be pursued and prosecuted.
Others made similar observations.
“When you have a legitimate war crime, that absolutely has to be investigated and taken care of, but in a way that is focused on justice,” Timothy Parlatore, a Navy vet who also represented now-retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was acquitted of war crimes charges and pardoned by former President Donald Trump.
“The vast majority of the Special Operations community are out there doing the right thing,” Parlatore added. “A lot of allegations of war crimes are overblown by the enemy and by some in the media. I hope this won’t cause more problems than is necessary.”
To the last point, several active-duty military members who spoke to Just the News expressed concern that some actions viewed by others who were not involved could easily be misconstrued, making them fearful of engaging in combat operations only to have to run into problems later with investigative committees.
Wagner added that those fears apply to future combat and past battles as well.
“Anybody who fought any battle in Iraq and Afghanistan has to worry about whether they are going to be investigated,” Wagner said. “It’s second-guessing the soldiers.”
What’s more, Parlatore said, such probes will only make U.S. forces second-guess themselves in the field.
“It makes people hesitate in a way that will make them afraid to make decisions,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
Initially, the investigations were to occur at both HQ’s in Tampa as well as Kuwait and Afghanistan. But the IG’s memo suggested those probes could widen to other commands and operations beyond Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve, and Joint Special Operations Command.
“We may identify additional organizations and locations during the evaluation,” wrote Roark. “We may revise the objective as the evaluation proceeds, and we will consider suggestions from management for additional or revised objectives.”
Parlatore issued a warning as to where these probes could lead.
“The problem with looking into alleged war crimes is there usually is a lack of evidence of these things,” he told Just the News. “But there is significant motivation for the enemy to present information that will have our people jammed up.”
The memo did not include an end date for the investigations.
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