Sunday, September 2, 2007

Command responsibility, sometimes referred to as the Yamashita standard or the Medina standard, is the doctrine of hierarchical accountability in cases of war crimes.

Origin of command responsibility
In The Art of War, written during the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu argued that it was a commander's duty to ensure that his subordinates conducted themselves in a civilised manner during an armed conflict. The trial of Peter von Hagenbach by an ad hoc tribunal of the Holy Roman Empire in 1474, was the first "international" recognition of commanders' obligations to act lawfully.

Developing accountability
Command responsibility is an omission mode of individual criminal liability: the superior is responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates and for failing to prevent or punish (as opposed to crimes he ordered). In Re Yamashita before the United States Military Commission, General Yamashita became the first to be charged on the basis of responsibility for an omission. He was leading the 14th Area Army of Japan in the Philippines when they engaged in atrocities against thousands of civilians. As commanding officer he was charged with "unlawfully disregarding and failing to discharge his duty as a commander to control the acts of members of his command by permitting them to commit war crimes."
With finding Yamashita guilty, the Commission adopted a new standard to judge a commander, stating that where "vengeful actions are widespread offences and there is no effective attempt by a commander to discover and control the criminal acts, such a commander may be held responsible, even criminally liable." However, the ambiguous wording resulted in a long-standing debate about the standard of knowledge required to establish command responsibility. After sentencing he was executed.
Following In re Yamashita courts clearly accepted that a commander's actual knowledge of unlawful actions is sufficient to impose individual criminal responsibility.

Introducing responsibility for an omission
The first international treaty to comprehensively codify the doctrine of command responsibility was the Additional Protocol I ("AP I") of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Command responsibility Definitions

Application of Command Responsibility

Main articles: Nuremberg Trials, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, and Nuremberg Defense The Nuremberg Tribunal

Main article: International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Main article: International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Main article: International Criminal Court The International Criminal Court
Further information: War on terror
A number of legal analysts have advanced the argument that the principle of "command responsibility" could make high-ranking officials within the Bush administration guilty of war crimes committed either with their knowledge or by persons under their control.

See also

Sugamo and the River Kwai By Robin Rowland, Paper presented to Encounters at Sugamo Prison, Tokyo 1945-52, The American Occupation of Japan and Memories of the Asia-Pacific War, Princeton University, May 9, 2003
The Yamashita Standard by Anne E. Mahle, PBS
Human Rights and the Commander By Barry McCaffrey, autumn 1995
The My Lai Massacre: A Case Study By MAJ. Tony Raimondo, Human Rights Program, School of the Americas, Fort Benning, Georgia
Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees Human Rights Watch, April 2005 Vol. 17, No. 1
Accountability Absent in Prisoner Torture by John D. Hutson, Pioneer Press, February 28, 2006
THE MEMO How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted, by JANE MAYER, The New Yorker, Issue of February 27, 2006
War Crimes and Commanders-in-Chief George Bush and Tomoyuki Yamashita, By DAVE LINDORFF, CounterPunch, February 9, 2006
The Gonzales Indictment by Marjorie Cohn in truthout Wednesday January 19, 2005
The Quaint Mr. Gonzales by Marjorie Cohn in La Prensa San Diego, November 19, 2004
Rumsfeld, Bush, and 'command responsibility'
From John Ashcroft's Justice Department to Abu Ghraib by Joe Conason article in Salon May 22, 2004
Command's Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan by Human Rights First
Command Responsibility? by Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith,Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the International Relations Center (IRC, online at and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at, January 10, 2006
Abu Ghraib is a Command Responsibility By Ray McGovern Former CIA analyst, CounterPunch, October 1 / 2, 2005
Torture and Accountability by Elizabeth Holtzman article in The Nation posted June 28, 2005 (July 18, 2005 issue) about The Geneva Convention
Former NY Congress member Holtzman Calls For President Bush and His Senior Staff To Be Held Accountable for Abu Ghraib Torture Thursday, June 30, 2005 on Democracy Now
Memos Reveal War Crimes Warnings By Michael Isikoff Newsweek May 19, 2004
US Lawyers Warn Bush on War Crimes Global Policy Forum January 28, 2003
Charges Sought Against Rumsfeld Over Prison Abuse By ADAM ZAGORIN, Time
War Crimes Suit Prepared against Rumsfeld Democracy Now, November 9th, 2006
War Criminals, Beware by Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, The Nation, November 3, 2006
Why The Military Commissions Act is No Moderate Compromise By MICHAEL C. DORF, FindLaw, Oct. 11, 2006
The CIA, the MCA, and Detainee Abuse By JOANNE MARINER, FindLaw, November 8, 2006
Europe's Investigations of the CIA's Crimes By JOANNE MARINER, FindLaw, Februari 20, 2007
Bush's War Crimes Cover-up by Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, December 8th, 2006
The John McCain Charade by Robert Kuttner, the Boston Globe, October 1, 2006
Bush's "Dirty War" Amnesty Law By Robert Parry, Consortium News, September 23, 2006
Republican Torture Laws Will Live in History By Larisa Alexandrovna, AlterNet, October 2, 2006.

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