Questions of compliance with law now arise in every aspect of U.S. military operations, including the most highly classified clandestine activities, and so legal assistance must be routinely factored into military planning and mission execution. A newly updated Army manual describes the diverse forms of legal support to military operations.
“Legal issues are a fundamental part of modern military operations,” the manual observes. “Assigning JAGC [Judge Advocate General's Corps] Soldiers directly to warfighting units has become commonplace.”
“While the legal intensity of military operations is a relatively recent phenomenon, lawyers in uniform are not new” and date back to pre-Revolutionary War times.
“Judge advocates serve at all levels in today’s are of operations and advise commanders on a wide variety of operational legal issues. These issues include the law of war, rules of engagement, lethal and nonlethal targeting, treatment of detainees and noncombatants, and military justice.”
“Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, JAGC Soldiers have deployed in large numbers in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Current operations continue to give rise to significant legal issues. As a result, judge advocates are in high demand in operations.”
The need for legal support extends to irregular warfare and clandestine missions performed by special operations forces (SOF).
“The practice of international and operational law is of particular emphasis as special operations missions are legally and politically sensitive, especially in the absence of international armed conflict,” the manual states. “Judge advocates advise the commander on traditional law of war issues, as well as the requirements of domestic United States law (such as fiscal, security assistance, and intelligence oversight laws) and broader international law requirements.”
“Due to the political sensitivities associated with many SOF direct action missions, judge advocates [must] thoroughly understand the rules of engagement.”
“In many instances, special forces will conduct counterterrorism operations unilaterally due to the political sensitivities of the United States as well as the host nation. This will often present issues of sovereignty. Of equal importance will be any issues addressing associated detention operations and intelligence exploitation.”
See “Legal Support to the Operational Army,” Field Manual (FM) 1-04, 26 January 2012.
The newly updated Army manual does not address the law of armed conflict. That topic is treated in the much older, but still current, FM 27-10, “The Law of Land Warfare,” July 1956.
An overview of the military justice system, including the conduct of Army courts-martial, is provided in “Legal Guide for Commanders,” FM 27-1, January 1992.