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The Dawn of Treating War as a Crime

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More talks about war crimes are in the news. What a waste of time. Exactly how many participants in recent wars have been charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced? Is it a few dozen, a hundred, a thousand. No matter what the number, the vast majority of the people participating in a war of aggression and those who were actively involved in specific war crimes need never fear. History demonstrates that the world's governments have only made a very limited effort to go after people involved in war.

Perhaps the answer is that we start treating all participants in wars of aggression as criminals. After all, we have the ability to identify them and--in the highly connected world in which we live--the ability to punish them. If wars of aggression are seen as crime scenes we can begin now to put together the data necessary to prosecute all who participate, from the general's cook who never crossed the boarder, to the leader of a particular war-crime syndicate.

The big advantage to this approach is that in this age where anyone can build a big data base, collecting the data for future trials can be implemented today without waiting for approval by governments. A fingerprint collected from a single bullet casing today could (when matched with a person) be incriminating evidence in civil suits against that individual. In fact, the existence of a voluntarily collected database may well open the door to prosecutions of these war criminals under existing laws without approval from on high. Specific approval from governments may be slow in coming, but if the data for a conviction already exist, the temptation to try to put things right for victims may outweigh the lack of political willingness.

With a battlefield treated as a crime scene, volunteers could collect fingerprints from shell casings, DNA from rape victims, leaders' names from news releases, testimony from civilians who suffered losses, the names of executives at the manufacturers of war material, and photographic evidence of the invading army. Put all of this into a database and treat the participants as wanted criminals anywhere they go outside of their own country would make going to war personally very risky. With the same kind of collective reaction by governments to the recent aggression in Ukraine a united front could require DNA samples and fingerprints of all travelers from the offending country (or countries) and use the DNA data to identify near relatives who participated in the war. As in our criminal-justice system, criminals arrested on the basis of this evidence can negotiate better sentences if they give evidence about their superiors. Of course, criminal trials would probably (though not certainly) require legislation. But, this approach of building a case against high-ranking officers has been shown to work in our criminal system.

It's time that criminal justice comes to the battlefield, so that being a soldier is never going to be a free pass for whatever they are ordered (or decide on their own) to do.

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Writer, process designer, analyst, and democrat. My interests in recent years include working on improving election transparency by moving voting to all paper ballots and activism on the issue of truth about what happened on 9/11.

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