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The law of fake surrenders

[JURIST] Speaking Tuesday at a Pentagon briefing, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called deceptions by Iraqi soldiers purporting to surrender and then firing on American forces "serious violations of the law of war." "The [Iraqi] regime has committed acts of treachery on the battlefield," he said, "dressing their forces as liberated civilians, and sending soldiers out waving white flags and feigning surrender, with the goal of drawing coalition forces into the ambushes; using Red Cross vehicles to courier military instructions."

Such practices are formally prohibited by Article 37 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions [text]:

1. It is prohibited to kill, injure or capture an adversary by resort to perfidy. Acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy. The following acts are examples of perfidy:

(a) the feigning of an intent to negotiate under a flag of truce or of a surrender;
(b) the feigning of an incapacitation by wounds or sickness;
(c) the feigning of civilian, non-combatant status; and
(d) the feigning of protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other States not Parties to the conflict.

2. Ruses of war are not prohibited. Such ruses are acts which are intended to mislead an adversary or to induce him to act recklessly but which infringe no rule of international law applicable in armed conflict and which are not perfidious because they do not invite the confidence of an adversary with respect to protection under that law. The following are examples of such ruses: the use of camouflage, decoys, mock operations and misinformation.
Commentary on this Article is also available. Learn more about perfidy from the Crimes of War project.

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