Stephen Shi, Daniel Bodansky, and Amy Ross at the Crimes
of War discussion.
*Photographer: Jim Virga

Law School Experts Discuss Role of Media In Presenting Crimes and Law of War

The United States offered three justifications for going to war with Iraq, and, while two of them made sense as political arguments, only one of them could be justified legally, according to Prof. Dan Bodansky, an expert on international law.

Bodansky, a professor in the School of Law at the University of Georgia, offered this summary of the application of the law as it relates to initiating war to a group of about 50 faculty and students who met on the University of Georgia campus on April 18 to learn about the laws of war as it related to Iraq.

The program, organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, also focused on the role of the media in explaining the legal basis for war. The Center for International Trade and Security co-sponsored the program with the Cox Center.

Professor Stephen Shi, also of the School of Law, speaking on the same panel, said the argument made by many that Iraq did not have to play by the same rules of law as the U.S. because of the asymmetry of power of the two combatants is not one that can be justified legally. Both parties must follow the same procedures, he said.

"An asymmetric war leads the disadvantaged side to use means that do not meet the Geneva Convention," Shi said. "If international laws are not followed, soldiers forfeit their rights under the Geneva Convention."

Bodansky said that the legal justification for going to war offered by the U.S. was problematic because the United States did not receive approval from the U.N.

According to a legal principle established in the post-WWII Nuremberg Trials but never fully enforced, waging an aggressive war can be punished, Bodansky said.

"Urging aggressive war is a criminal act-a crime against peace," Bodansky said.

Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker introduced the session by saying charges and counter-chargers about war crimes were common in media coverage of the war in Iraq.

Bodansky and Shi said they felt the media had not always provided a clear picture of the legal issues involved.

When asked by Dr. Becker what grade the American media deserved in their coverage of the war with Iraq, Shi gave a B and Bodansky gave a B minus.

"The media treats the legality of the war in Iraq as an add-on," Bodansky said.

A major international step in pursuing war criminals has been the passage of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July 1998, said Amy Ross, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Georgia who participated in the session. Only six countries voted against the court, including the United States and Iraq, she noted.

Bodansky is the holder of the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law and teaches public international law, international environmental law, and foreign affairs and the constitution. He served as a climate change coordinator and attorney-advisor at the U.S. Department of State and was consultant to the United Nations in the areas of climate change and tobacco control.

Shi is a retired colonel in the Marine Corps and former commander of the Marine Corps' Law of War Training Unit. He also was instructor for Law of War matters at the Air Force and legal advisor to various units of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He is a visiting instructor in the School of Law.

The Cox Center collaborated with the Crimes of War Project, an effort by international journalists to inform coverage of war through an understanding of the laws of war, on a workshop in the Philippines in February. That workshop focused on coverage of victims of crime and war.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication of the University of Georgia.