February 20, 2020 – For the general public, the notion of a military investigation into a civilian death may conjure thoughts of investigations into high-profile incidents, such as the attack on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015, or war crimes like the notorious murder and immolation of Afghan children by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in 2012, which resulted in a criminal prosecution. Yet, over the last 18 years, the U.S. military has conducted many more assessments and administrative (i.e., non-criminal) investigations — in fact, thousands — into civilian casualties that occurred during or on the margins of combat and may not have constituted a violation of law.
Many, as with the investigation into the death of Naiz Mohamed, have not received any public attention or notice. The process has looked different at times. The degree of effort expended by the U.S. military officers conducting the investigations has also varied, along with the effectiveness of the investigations. But these low-profile, administrative inquiries into civilian casualties have been an important, yet little understood — and little told — part of the larger story of U.S. wars since 2001. We, and the organizations we represent (the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School) felt that it was important to understand and to tell that story. Last week, we released a research report that attempts to do just that.