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Judging Prisoner Abuse in Practice

To reiterate, prisoner abuse is defined as a military strategy enacted by political and military authorities that involves the intentional killing or harming, either directly or indirectly, of enemy combatants who have laid down their arms and surrendered. Translating this general concept into a practical measure for assessing the treatment of prisoners presents several challenges. The fog of war enshrouds not only the fighting on the ground but also the ability to observe and assess the treatment of captured combatants. The often chaotic nature of the battlefield, combined with desires of belligerents to conceal their own crimes while magnifying those of the enemy, turns even a straightforward accounting of the number of prisoners held into a daunting endeavor. Past conflicts still point to meaningful differences in the treatment of prisoners that merit some metric for distinguishing between the benevolence and brutality displayed by captors. Three issues in particular need to be addressed when deciding how to rank past instances of prisoner abuse: the types of conflict covered, which captors to include, and how to differentiate the overall level of violence inflicted upon prisoners.

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