IRRC No. 884

What Americans think of international humanitarian law

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The United States' foreign policy in the first decade of the twenty-first century and its involvement in armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to a reinvigorated interest in international humanitarian law (IHL), commonly referred to in the United States as the law of armed conflict. Conversations about whether to classify detainees as prisoners of war, debates about what constitutes torture, and numerous surveys attempting to measure the public's knowledge about and views on the rules of war are offering an opportunity to examine Americans' views on IHL.This article will reflect on those views, providing numerous examples to illustrate the complexities encountered when near universally accepted legal standards of conduct are layered upon the fluid and unpredictable realities of modern warfare. The article will also highlight the impact that battlefield activities can have on domestic debates over policy choices and national conscience.

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