Last Friday, the Department of Defense released an update to the 2015 Law of War Manual. According to Charlie Savage of the New York Times, the changes mainly center on the section related to the treatment of journalists in conflict. As Savage notes, when the manual was released last year, journalists and activists raised objections to this section, concerned that its wording could lead "commanders to put reporters at risk, and that other governments might cite the manual as justification for targeting them." The revised manual strikes a different tone, and it "lauds 'open and independent reporting' as vital" but notes "that the laws of war do not prohibit states from taking steps to protect sensitive information." Other changes reflect that "engaging in journalism does not constitute taking a direct part in hostilities."
NPR's On the Media set down with Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook and Defense Department Deputy General Counsel Charles A. Allen to discuss the changes.
From the Pentagon press release:
The manual is a guide for DoD personnel responsible for implementing the law of war and executing military operations. The current manual was released in June 2015 after a multi-year effort by military and civilian lawyers from across the Defense Department to develop a department-wide resource for military commanders, legal practitioners, and other military and civilian personnel on the international law principles governing armed conflict.
The updated manual released today contains a substantial revision to the section on journalists as well as minor updates to other sections. The journalism changes reflect input provided by the news media.
"After the manual’s release last year, DoD lawyers heard concerns brought forward by media organizations and engaged in a productive, thoughtful dialogue with journalists that helped us improve the manual and communicate more clearly the department's support for the protection of journalists under the law of war," said DoD General Counsel Jennifer O'Connor. "The department’s mission is to defend the very freedoms that journalists exercise. We have learned a lot during this process, and the department and the manual are better off for the experience.”
Over the last few months DoD met with journalists and media advocacy groups, and listened to their comments and suggestions on how to improve that portion of the manual.
"The Department of Defense is a learning institution," said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, who helped facilitate engagement with the media. "We appreciate the willingness of journalists to constructively share their concerns with the department's lawyers. The changes to the manual reflect the department’s concerted effort to address those concerns and clarify specific language.“
The department will continue to engage with members of the public on the manual, and the department remains prepared to update the manual further as needed.
The updated manual is publicly available at the “News” tab on Defense.gov under “Publications.”