Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hostile Act, Hostile Intent, Deadly Force

It seems the Washington Post is distorting the story of the civilian Cessna that strayed into restricted airspace above Washington, D.C. Powerline alerts us to this nugget buried in the follow-up story.

The [anonymous] officials said they were told that Rumsfeld gave authorization to shoot down the plane if military officials declared it a hostile threat. Because of such factors as the aircraft's slow, constant speed and course and the apparent disorientation of its pilots, that declaration was never reached, they said.

The story also says that military rules of engagement are "generally classified." This is because we don't want potential belligerents to know when troops will or will not fire. That makes planning attacks much easier.

I have no knowledge of the specific rules of engagement for defending the airspace above the Capitol. But I know that the Standing Rules of Engagement (SROE) for air, sea, and land recognize the inherent right of self-defense. And "self" defense also includes defense of others, namely fellow troops. Certainly the Commander-in-Chief would be covered under the defense of others. Self-defense means that troops may use deadly force in response to a hostile act (they are doing something to hurt or kill our troops) or hostile intent (they are about to do something to hurt or kill our troops). So it would not be necessary for Rumsfeld to issue an order to shoot down the planes if they became a "hostile threat," since that authority already exists in the absence of an order from anyone.

The anonymous sources may simply be referring to the rules of engagement for the airspace over D.C. And those rules of engagement may even have been signed by Rumsfeld. This is a far cry from Rummy ordering the plane shot down. There is either more to the story, or the Washington Post really goofed on this one. You decide.

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