In the News

No discussion on Military Ethics would be complete without a discussion on scandals that come up from time to time in the media.  Often a scandal in the media is how we discover that there are problems within a service that need a deeper examination in relation to military ethics.

On this page .....

UN School hit in Gaza
Vietnam Veterans Sue Military over PTSD
U.S. Army PFC Lawrence S. Gordon finally identified after 70 years
Operation Protective Edge - Serious Concerns about Civilian Casualties


Photo credit - EPA via the BBC 

Because of the work that I do, I read a lot about war, and sometimes I read about conflicts as they unfold, however the current situation in Gaza stands out for me because of the amount of comment that is being passed by officials from the UN, who are normally staunchly diplomatic and often silent (running the line that it is better to say nothing at all, than say the wrong thing).  This new willingness by UN officials to pass comment may be because Israel has been targeting hospitals and schools run by the UN (the UN even gave the coordinates to the Israeli Defence Force,).

The latest attack on a UN school was at the Beit Hanoun Elementary School, which had been designated as a UNRWA Emergency Shelter, so was full of families attempting to flee the fighting.  The UNRWA staff had given the coordinates to the school to the IDF on 12 occasions, the latest being 3 hours before the attack – they gave the coordinates to the IDF in attempt to protect the school and the civilians inside it, not for the IDF to use it as an aid for their targeting of the school.

Some other news
-          The UN Human Rights Council has established an “independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.  The UNHRC also called to an end to “violence against civilians wherever it occurred”, in Gaza, in East Jerusalem, and in Israel (as a result of rocket attacks from Gaza).

-          There is no where for Palestinians in the Gaza strip to flee to for safety, especially when UN emergency shelters are being bombed.  Residents of the Gaza strip are unable to seek refuge in another country – because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza an “open air prison”.  Even during relatively peaceful times, it is almost impossible for Gaza residents to travel in to Israel, and the border with Egypt was only open for 17 days so far this year.  Residents are unable to leave by sea (as Israel restricts boats to three nautical miles from Gaza), and there is no airport in Gaza for residents to leave by air (and Israel controls Gaza airspace).  All trade across the borders are also severely restricted, making it most of the population in Gaza dependent on UN & Hamas food handouts, and making it difficult to get food, building supplies and other materials in Gaza.  this has led to the creation of the tunnel system across the border into Egypt.

Photo Credit : Alexander Gerst
-          German Astronaut Alexander Gerst has tweeted a photo he took of Gaza at night from the International Space Station, saying “my saddest photo yet.  From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel

-          Israeli Channel Two has retracted false allegations of bias (& using a UN ambulance to transport militants) against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency -

-          the current death toll from Operation Protective Edge is
o   756 Palestinians (74% of which are civilians, including 3 UN workers)
o   32 Israelis (including 3 civilians)


Photo by Danny-w (used under Wikipedia Commons)

Operation Protective Edge - Serious Concerns about Civilian Casualties

Currently Israel is undertaking Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.  This began on the 8th of July with airstrikes and artillery shelling, with the operation moving to a ground incursion on the 17th of July.  The Israeli and Palestinian situation is complex and controversial, and I do not wish to enter into that debate (but there is a short discussion of the situation on Wikipedia here ).  However, I did want to highlight the concerns about the high toll being taken by civilians (including children) as a result of Operation Protective Edge.
United Nations Relief and Works Agendy commissioner, General Pierre Krähenbühl (who is based in Jerusalem) issued a statement on the 14th of July, stating that “All indications are -and I find this particulary dramatic - that women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes. I am equally disturbed that people with disabilities are among the victims, reportedly as a result of Israeli strikes.”
This was again highlighted on the 16th of July in a statement issued by Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coorindator Valerie Adams, that she was “extremely concerned about the escalation of hostilities in Gaza and its impact on civilians.”

On the 21st of July The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a statement on the humanitarian situation, that gave the statistics that were behind these statements*.......

448 Palestinian fatalities (8-20th July 2014, as a result of Operation Protective Edge)
348 (78%) civilians, including 111 children (25%)
75 members of armed groups (17%)
25 people unknown (5%)

 Israeli fatalities
2 civilians (10%)

The most disturbing thing about this situation is that it currently appears that the Israeli Defence Force is not applying any attempt at discrimination in their attacks in Gaza, and if they are attempting to limit civilian casualties (as is required under the Law of Armed Conflict, and International Humanitarian Law), then they are doing a particularly poor job of it.  If their goal is to make Israel a safer place, to reduce the number of terrorist attacks, then how can killing non-combatants such as children assist in that goal?  Their actions indicate that they are not interested in the long term aim of peace with their Palestinian neighbours (who they have held in blockade since 2007).

During Operation Protective Edge, Israel has encouraged civilians within Gaza to move to areas away from Hamas installations.   This has proven impossible for the people of Gaza for the following reasons :-
-          Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world,
-          the population of Gaza are not able to leave Gaza itself due to the blockade, which has been in place since 2007,
-          Israel considers any Hamas installation to be a legitimate target.  The problem with this being that Hamas is not just a military (or terrorist) organisation.  It is the freely elected government of the people of Gaza, and run hospitals, schools, the police force, orphanages, and food distribution centres (90% of the people  of Gaza rely on Hamas and UN food assistance, due to the blockade).
What will be interesting in the coming months, is if Israel is held accountable for their seemingly flagrant disregard for International Humanitarian Law, and the Law of Armed Conflict, or if the USA will again veto any action against them (especially since President Obama does not need to ge re-elected). 
*other UN agencies also released similar statistics in the days leading up to the release of this Humanitarian Situation Report.   UNOCHA 16 July 2014  UNRWA 14 July 2014

 A good place to read more about the Gaza situation and what is behind it, this piece on “11 Crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis” is a good place to start -

Vietnam Veterans Sue Military over PTSD

The sacrifice given in fighting for your country can sometimes not be seen easily (in the same way that an injury from an IED can) and often can affect a soldier and their family for many decades after their service has finished.  The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 830,000 Vietnam Veterans suffered symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)[1], and the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study[2] found that life time prevalence of Vietnam Vets PTSD was 30.9%. 

PTSD was not a medical diagnosis until the 1980’s so many Vietnam era veterans received not a medical discharge, but an “other than honourable” discharge from the Army, Navy and Air Force.  These bad paper discharges affected which jobs the veterans could get after leaving the military, as well as affecting their veterans benefits.  Even after PTSD became a recognised diagnosis, the department of Veteran’s affairs and the Pentagon refused to apply medically appropriate standards in reviewing Vietnam veteran’s requests to upgrade their discharges based on their PTSD, “to compel appropriate action by the military and to finally secure justice for these veterans”[3].

Students from the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at the Yale Law School, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress have been working on the issue for some time and have combined with five Vietnam combat veterans to file a class action lawsuit in the US Federal Court, suing the Army, Navy and Air Force

“These veterans served their country, but their country, through the service branches’ failure to upgrade their discharges, has not served them,” said Dr. Tom Berger, executive director of the Veterans Health Council, Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s time to finally give them the upgrades and recognition they deserve.”

“Unfortunately, the Pentagon has refused to correct the decades of injustice experienced by tens of thousands of veterans who suffer from PTSD but were discharged before it was a diagnosable condition,” said V. Prentice, a law student intern in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents the plaintiffs in this suit. “This action seeks to compel appropriate action by the military and to finally secure justice for these veterans.”

Information about PTSD is available here - 
Free 24 hour a day crisis support is available through the following organisations
Australia - Lifeline on 13 11 14 in Australia   
USA – Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-82551-800-273-8255
UK – Samaritans 08457 90909008457 909090

[2] Kulka, R. 1990. Trauma and the Vietnam War generation : report of findings from the National Vietnam readjustment study.  New York : Brunner/Mazel.

(photograph - Jed Henry)

For almost 70 years the family of US Army Pvt. 1st Class Lawrence S. Gordon have not known where their son, brother and uncle was buried.  For many years his mother believed that the Army had lost her sons body after he died when the M8 armoured car he was in was hit with a  German 88mm shell on the 13th of August, 1944, near Carrouges, France (180km south west of Paris).  He was initially identified as a US soldier (his bloody wallet was returned to his family), however somehow was later mistaken for a German soldier (possibly due to the clothes he was wearing under his uniform) and buried in a French war cemetery as an unknown German soldier.  Filmaker Jed Henry began the campaign to bring Pvt Gordon home in 2011 while working on a documentary about his grandfather (Staff Sgt. David Henry) who served alongside Pvt Gordon.

Jed Henry located the remains and formed a research team to identify them, which included historians, DNA experts, forensic dentists, and family members of Pvt Gordon, including his nephew in Alberta Canada (even though he was a Canadian citizen, Pvt Gordon signed up to serve in the US Army, one month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour).
When the US Government's Joint Prisoners of War/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) refused to exhume and test the body, the German War Graves Commission and the French government worked together to grant joint permission for DNA to be extracted from the skull of soldier X-356, which was then identified through DNA testing to be Pvt Gordon by the French Ministry of Justice.  The family are now having the results verified by the University of Wisconsin before a planned burial in Saskatchewan, Canada, on the 70th anniversary of his death.
The refusal of JPAC to test Pvt Gordon's remains raises huge questions about the US government commitment to the policy of "leave no man behind".  Adding to this is the fact that the research and testing has been entirely funded by the volunteer research team and the family of Pvt Gordon.  It cost the team $25,000 to locate, research and test Pvt Gordon's remains.  Currently it is costing JPAC around $1million per soldier identified.  In a possible coincidence to this case, the US Secretary of Defence this week announced an overhaul of the agency this week.  In July 2013, Associated Press released details of an internal audit of JPAC that found JPAC's management was inept, mismanaged, wasteful and corrupt, with a concern that it could worsen from "dysfunctional to total failure", with the average length of time for the JPAC lab to identify remains being 11 years from when they are recovered.
In the USA the identification of Pvt Gordon was seen as a step towards cooperation between government and non-government organisations and volunteers in the recovery of personnel missing in action.  However, this co-operation is not a new way of operating for countries other than the USA.  For example in Australia, Dr Bob Hall, from the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS) based at the University of New South Wales in Canberra (at the Australian Defence Force Academy), has been running the Operation Wandering Souls project, which aims to return to Vietnamese families items that were "liberated" from bodies or captured on the battlefield by Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the Vietnam war.  Dr Hall is also in the process of compiling a database and virtual map of Vietnamese soldiers killed in battles with Australian and New Zealand forces during the war, to assist in finding the 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers still listed as missing in action.  This follows on from assistance from the Vietnamese in helping locate 6 Australian MIA's, and goes back to Hall's time in Vietnam, when in 1970 he helped a Vietnamese man locate his son who had been killed and buried near a local beach.  (the ABC Foreign Correspondent Program has a video on this project here).  The Australian experience seems to be that of co-operation between government departments, universities, and teams of volunteers can be effective.  In contrast the approach of the US government is that there is no place for volunteers or family members in the search for missing military personnel, and whilst volunteer organisations and projects are keen to share information they have obtained in their search (such as Operation Wandering Souls), JPAC is unwilling to share the information they uncover, as they "are not the source or archive" for such information - that they would dismiss information that they find in their search in this way is truly offensive to the sacrifice that has been made by the men and women that they are supposed to be looking after.  It seems that JPAC has been more concerned with "guarding their turf" (and budget) rather than brining closure to families of fallen soldiers, and allowing killed military personnel to finally be laid to rest at home.