Satellites orbit 900 miles above the earth, collecting photographic images and data on potential targets. Reconnaissance aircraft move in for a closer look, while military intelligence personnel gather signals from multiple ground sources. All of this intelligence streams to the commander in charge of targeting decisions. The commander's role is to analyze that information, review the results and, if necessary, engage the target.
Judge Advocates play an integral part of this targeting and engagement process during international military operations. Judge Advocates also work closely with the commander and staff in order to:
- Search for targets and collect intelligence/evidence using
- Satellite and other high-altitude imagery
- Signals intelligence (such as radio intercepts)
- Human intelligence (such as battlefield scouts)
- Select legally viable targets
- Determine which the weapons systems to implement during the engagement
During Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, Judge Advocates used communications equipment to examine detailed images of potential targets in the region. They developed a preliminary legal analysis, along with questions and legal issues for further discussion. Officials forwarded target selections to the Commander-In-Chief, U.S. European Command, then to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President before sending the selections to NATO for final approval.
Judge Advocates employed similar legal analysis and strategic targeting during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but placed even more emphasis on imagery systems and intelligence gathering. Infrastructure, like irrigation canals, and pipeline systems were not targeted. Schools, historical sites, religious buildings and hospitals were also protected.
When commanders make targeting decisions, they must act in accordance with laws that govern international warfare (as determined by the Hague and Geneva conventions). They rely on Judge Advocates to interpret the law and provide counsel on the correct course of action.
Judge Advocates are tasked with upholding these laws in order to:
- Limit collateral damage
- Protect both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering
- Safeguard the fundamental human rights of those who fall into enemy hands (e.g. POWs, the wounded or sick, and civilians)
- Facilitate the restoration of peace
Judge Advocates work to ensure that U.S. Armed Forces continue to conduct operations in accordance with the Law of War. To accomplish this task, Judge Advocates are assisting commanders in the development and execution of training strategies to help Soldiers understand and follow rules of engagement.