Small Wars Journal

Conviction Focused Targeting

Tue, 08/24/2010 - 8:00am
Conviction Focused Targeting:

Targeting Violent Extremists While Developing Rule of Law Capacity

by Steve D. Berlin

Download the Full Article: Conviction Focused Targeting

Stability operations present unique, simultaneous challenges to traditional intelligence-driven operations and rule of law (ROL) development. As units expand from purely offensive operations into increasing stability operations, host nation entities must concomitantly become increasingly responsible to suppress violent extremist networks (VEN) and other criminals within their borders. However, even though the host nation authorities are to assume more responsibility for VENs and other criminal activities as stability operations evolve, the conundrum is that these extremists often remain the primary focus of U.S. Forces (USF) because they pose the largest threats to host nation, and hence regional, stability. In order to be effective, intelligence-driven targeting within stability operations must operate in conjunction with the host nation legal systems. During the shift to increasing stability operations, commanders must also shift their targeting philosophy to combat violent extremism by means of the host nation criminal justice institutions. The host nation systems in turn become stronger; thus, USF will target VENs while simultaneously strengthening the host nation ROL systems.

Perhaps the greatest impediment that many commanders face in combating violent extremists during full spectrum operations is that they operate solely on intelligence-based targeting. They rely on intelligence to find, fix, and capture violent extremists. These violent extremists then become security or criminal detainees and some commanders then hope that they will one day be punished for their actions. To ensure these violent extremists are properly punished for their crimes, commanders should instead leverage the host nation legal system. In order to use the host nation criminal legal system, commanders should not look at facts they gather only as intelligence, but also as evidence. Intelligence, in turn, becomes evidence for use in host nation criminal prosecution and this evidence, in turn, also feeds into intelligence.

As USF conduct stability operations; or, more importantly, shift from offense focused operations to increasing stability operations, units must find practical methods to simultaneously support ROL development while targeting violent extremists. This article posits a model when USF and the host nation conduct stability operations by working as true partners. While this article is Iraq-centric, its methodology applies to any host nation legal system. Commanders should work alongside host nation legal systems however they are aligned. Thus, when units then plan to target violent extremists, they should do so using a law enforcement partnership model that focuses on convictions rather than stopping at the warrant threshold. Doing so moves us past a catch-and-release program while simultaneously strengthening host nation institutions and removing violent extremists from the operating environment.

Commanders should therefore create prosecution support teams. These teams pull together a brigade combat team's organic Soldiers, Department of State personnel, and contractors to team with host nation security forces. The combined forces then create a task force that targets VENs. The USF will deliver evidence and evidentiary leads to their host nation partners. Together they will develop criminal cases to eliminate the VENs using the local judicial system. The ultimate goal of the organization is not simply kill or capture, but for the local courts to convict the violent extremists and for them to face punishment. This method not only targets VENs and eliminates them from the community, but also simultaneously builds rule of law institutions. Thus, the U.S. will leave the host nation more capable of controlling its own security.

Download the Full Article: Conviction Focused Targeting

Major Steve Berlin is an active duty U.S. Army Judge Advocate presently assigned as Brigade Judge Advocate, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82d Division (Airborne). He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, University of Florida, and the Judge Advocate General's School. He wrote this article while deployed to Iraq.

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