Just when it seemed the government’s policy language couldn’t get any more paradoxical, self-justifying, and replete with inconsistencies, the Pentagon issued its “Law of War Manual” earlier this month. The manual is meant to dictate legal conduct for service members from all branches during military operations. Though the enormous tome is drier than stale bread, there are plenty of alarming entries—from designating journalists as potential terrorists to allowing the use of internationally banned weapons—which more than warrant a thorough perusal.
This manual is the first comprehensive change made to Department of Defense’s laws of war policy since 1956 and has been in the making for 25 years. One change in terminology directly targets journalists, stating, “in general, journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces […] or unprivileged belligerents.” Apparently, reporters have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda in this new “unprivileged belligerent” designation, which replaces the Bush-era term, “unlawful combatants.” What future repercussions this categorization could bring are left to the imagination, even though the cited reasoning—the possibility terrorists might impersonate journalists—seems legitimate. This confounding label led a civilian lawyer to say it was “an odd and provocative thing for them to write.”