Effective military investigations into civilian harm can help answer important questions for affected civilians, provide a basis for appropriate redress, promote accountability, and allow the military to learn valuable lessons for avoiding or mitigating similar harm in the future. The U.S. military has shown it can investigate civilian harm, but significant inconsistencies in when and how investigations are conducted has contributed to shortcomings, including a failure to investigate incidents when a close look is warranted and missed opportunities to learn from incidents and make future corrections.

Based on research carried out between 2017 and 2019, “In Search of Answers: U.S. Military Investigations and Civilian Harm” examines how the U.S. military tracks, assesses, and investigates reports of civilian harm by its forces, both in theory and in practice. The research team analyzed 228 investigation reports documenting military investigations into alleged civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, between 2002 and 2015 and conducted in-depth interviews with current and former military officers and U.S. government officials, as well as with civil society representatives with expertise on investigation procedures and responses to civilian harm.

The report aims to identify both the factors that are most important to ensure effective investigations and the obstacles or challenges that may prevent a successful investigation. Using this information, the report makes a series of recommendations intended to improve investigations into civilian harm, including asking the military to re-evaluate its investigations practice and create more accessible channels to report civilian harm, more consistently include civilian witness interviews and site visits in its investigations, and to provide regular and comprehensive reporting on investigation results.