For the average Imperial officer, being deemed the “most wanted Imperial war criminal” is pretty low on the list of desirable titles, alongside “Vader Force-choke practice dummy,” “Palpatine dental hygienist,” and “airlock tester.” In the newest Star Wars novel, Aftermath: Empire’s End, the hunt is on for Admiral Sloane, who has just been given that ignominious label by the New Republic (formerly the Rebel Alliance). Sloane’s characterization as a war criminal begs the question: what case does the New Republic have against her?
Rae Sloane, Aftermath, & Life Debt: A Quick Primer
Before we dive into the case against Admiral Sloane, it’s probably wise to catch everyone up who isn’t familiar with her character or the Aftermath trilogy of books. Author Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy follows the struggle between the fledgling New Republic (NR) and remaining Imperial forces following Return of the Jedi. The first novel, Aftermath, was released in late 2015 and was followed by Life Debt in July 2016. The trilogy’s final chapter, Empire’s End, will hit bookshelves on February 21st.
Our resident *alleged* war criminal, Rae Sloane is one of the major figures in the trilogy. Sloane was first introduced in the 2014 novel A New Dawn, and has made appearances throughout new canon material, including in Marvel’s Kanan comic series. Sloane, an unwaveringly loyal career Imperial officer, ascended the ranks to eventually command the Star Destroyer Vigilance during the Battle of Endor. Sloane survived the battle, emerging as one of the Empire’s last truly capable officers. In the wake of Endor, Sloane worked to rally the largest contingent of remaining Imperial forces under her command, becoming the new face of the Empire.
While Admiral Sloane is no tyrant or fanatical lunatic, a sequence of events in Life Debt end up painting a target squarely on her back. As the apparent commander of remaining Imperial forces, Sloane requests peace talks with the NR. The NR leaders agree to the meeting, seeing it as an opportunity to finally end the bloody conflict. In reality, the talks are intended as a ruse as the Empire launches an attack on the NR capital world of Chandrila. While Sloane knows that the peace talks are a sham, she does not know the full details of the attack plan, which was devised by a mysterious Imperial named Gallius Rax.
The peace talks coincide with a grand celebration on Chandrila commemorating the recent liberation of dozens of Rebel prisoners from a vile Imperial black site prison. Admiral Sloane travels to Chandrila and watches the celebration with Mon Mothma and other Rebel leaders, expecting the Imperial fleet to appear and unleash hell at any moment.
Instead, the former prisoners suddenly draw blasters and begin firing on civilians and Rebel leaders, including Mon Mothma. Admiral Sloane is caught off-guard by the method of attack, having expected a conventional military assault. As chaos erupts, she flees and battles with Norra Wexley, a NR pilot and central character who tries to capture her. Sloane manages to escape, escaping the planet in a cargo ship. In an ensuing investigation, the NR discovers that the former prisoners each had small biological implants that caused them to attack on command. The investigation revealed that an undercover Imperial agent on Chandrila had supplied concealable blasters to the prisoners and then triggered the prisoners’ implants, sparking the ambush.
The NR concludes that Sloane was involved in the ambush, which quickly earns her the vaunted title of most wanted Imperial war criminal.
War Crimes 101
Before we go and put the hovercart before the bantha, lets take a look at what is meant by the term “war crime.” The law of war sets forth a mixture of rules, requirements, and prohibitions that collectively govern how war is waged. Those rules help set the boundary between lawful and unlawful acts on the battlefield. Think of them like the instructions on the inside of a board game box that tell you how to play the game. The U.S. Army’s Field Manual 27-10, which covers the law of warfare, defines war crimes as violations of the law of war by military or civilian persons. In other words, if you break one of the rules, it can be considered a war crime.
However, not every act by the enemy on the battlefield is considered a war crime. Merely fighting as part of the enemy force does not automatically make you a war criminal. Instead, you have to violate the law of war in some fashion to commit a war crime. For example, if Admiral Sloane ordered the Vigilance to unleash its turbolasers and engage the Rebel fleet at Endor, that order would not, by itself, make her a war criminal. She would be lawfully fighting the enemy and defending her ship. On the other hand, as we’ve seen before, Tarkin’s use of the Death Star to obliterate a planet full of civilians on Alderaan would cross the line and be considered a war crime.
With that in mind, the NR isn’t hunting Admiral Sloane as a war criminal simply because she fights for the Empire. Instead, she is pursued for her role in the ambush on Chandrila, which was an attack fraught with potential law of war violations.
Faking the Truce
If the NR captured NR and put her before a war crimes tribunal, prosecutors would lead off the charges with an accusation that she improperly used a flag of truce. Flags of truce are used as a way to ask to talk to the enemy, usually to negotiate surrender or to arrange some other end to fighting—think of someone waving a white flag and you’re on the right track. Using a flag of surrender or truce to gain some sort of military advantage has long been recognized as a violation of the law of war. The Army’s Field Manual 27-10 lists it as a customary war crime, while Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute recognizes it as a serious breach of the law of war. Violating this rule is taken so seriously because it is a measure that helps bring an end conflicts. When a flag of truce is abused, especially to spring a sneak attack, opponents rapidly lose trust, which inevitably drags out the conflict.
Admiral Sloane would undoubtedly be accused of using the peace talks on Chandrila as a thinly veiled feint designed to help the Empire’s ambush succeed. Sloane’s communication to the NR about peace talks would be a prime prosecution exhibit. In the communication, Sloane asks to hold peace talks at the NR capital on Chandrila. Although Sloane did not formally wave around any sort of flag, her request made directly to NR leadership has the same effect.
That same communication would also be valuable evidence for other reasons. In it, Sloane claimed to be responsible for leaking the NR many pieces of highly valuable intelligence that led to some of their largest victories after Endor. Sloane explained that the leaks were intended to eliminate competition and shore up her position within the Empire. Sloane also specifically requested minimal security for the peace talks as a measure of good faith. NR witnesses, including Leia, would testify that Sloane’s posturing made them believe that her offer of truce was genuine. Sloane’s posturing as a Grand Admiral and her assertion about the intelligence leaks seemingly confirmed NR suspicions that she was in command of the largest remaining chunk of Imperial forces. This led NR leaders to believe that Sloane both possessed significant power and authority to legitimately offer peace talks.
While there is clear proof Sloane requested the peace talks, the NR would have a harder time proving that she intended to improperly use the peace talks to set up the ambush. Just as with other crimes, most violations of the law of war require proof of a guilty state of mind, otherwise known as mens rea. Here, it wouldn’t be enough to simply prove that Admiral Sloane requested peace talks prior to the ambush. Prosecutors would have to go further and prove that she intended to falsely request the peace talks.
The NR lacks any sort of powerful direct evidence, such as a confession, to prove that Sloane falsely made the truce request. Instead, they would have to rely on several pieces of circumstantial evidence to make their case. The NR would first point to the tacit link between Sloane and the undercover Imperial agent who triggered the ambush. They would argue that Sloane, as a Grand Admiral and leader of Imperial forces would have logically had knowledge of such a complex and brazen attack.
To support that inference, prosecutors would argue that Sloane used the prospect of a truce to bring NR leadership together. The resulting concentration of high-ranking personnel made for an easier attack. The short time between Sloane’s arrival and the attack would serve as proof that the talks were merely a means to facilitate the attack, as her arrival was arguably the trigger point that brought the intended targets together.
Moreover, Sloane arguably demonstrated her criminal mindset during her escape from Chandrila. Norra Wexley, the NR pilot who chased Sloane, would be a critical witness to this point. Her visible injuries sustained in fierce hand-to-hand combat with Sloane would tell a powerful tale of just how desperate Sloane was to escape the planet. Prosecutors would point out that Sloane would not have run, fought, and stolen a shuttle to escape off world if she had truly come for legitimate peace talks. Using that lattice of circumstantial evidence, prosecutors would contend that Sloane’s sole intent behind organizing the peace talks was to set the conditions for a successful ambush. She therefore should be held criminally liable for improperly using a flag of truce.
The NR would also likely accuse Admiral Sloane of unlawfully and intentionally targeting civilians, including Mon Mothma. Under the law of war, it is unlawful to target or kill civilians who are not taking part in hostilities. Much like using a false flag of truce, the act of intentionally directing attacks against civilians is a serious breach of the law of war that can be severely punished. Given the overriding international desire to protect innocent noncombatants, this is among the most important restrictions in all of international law.
In Sloane’s case, the NR would introduce eyewitness testimony, holorecordings, and other similar evidence to show that scores of civilians, including Mon Mothma, were intentionally targeted in the attack. Footage of Mon Montha and other Chandrilans being shot at point-blank range would serve as a powerful testament to the innocent blood shed that day. However, since Admiral Sloane did not personally fire on any civilians, the real challenge for the NR would be to establish that she should be held criminally liable for the ambush.
The concept of holding commanders liable for the crimes of their subordinates is not new. In the 15th century, Peter Von Hagenbach was held criminally responsible for the acts of his soldiers, who pillaged villages and murdered civilians in Germany. While commanders can certainly be prosecuted for the crimes of their subordinates, that liability has limits. If a commander was not directly involved in a war crime, he must have been derelict in a way that contributed to or failed to prevent the offense to be held responsible. In other words, there must be some linkage between the commander and the crimes.
Following World War II, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was convicted for war crimes committed by his Soldiers throughout the Philippines. General Yamashita was not directly involved in the war crimes. Nonetheless, the tribunal concluded that the General knew or should have known about the crimes, given how widespread they were. That connection was enough to hold him responsible for the crimes of his soldiers since he did nothing to stop them. The Geneva Conventions later attempted to establish a firm standard in this area, requiring that a commander “knew, or had information which should have enabled them to conclude” that war crimes were being committed and failed to take measures to stop them.
Since Admiral Sloane did not pull the trigger on any civilian, the NR would be forced to prove that she knew or should have known that innocent civilians would be targeted in the attack. Just like above, the NR faces several gaps in evidence that present a challenge. There is no concrete proof of a direct link between Admiral Sloane and the undercover Imperial agent who triggered the ambush. The NR uncovered no communications between the two and the agent did not confess to taking any orders from Sloane. The NR would be forced to once again rely upon pieces of interlocking circumstantial evidence to prove its case.
Prosecutors would readily use Sloane’s position as Grand Admiral and her self-admitted intelligence leaks to the NR against her. Both serve as evidence of her intimate knowledge of the Empire’s operations and her access to critical information. They would argue that Sloane’s position and access to operational knowledge gave her ample means and opportunity to know about the ambush.
Prosecutors would underscore that argument by hammering upon the timing of Sloane’s visit to Chandrila. Those close timing of Sloane’s “peace talks” and the ambush would be portrayed as a closely coordinated plan, not some mere coincidence. Similarly, Sloane’s role in setting up the talks to draw in NR leadership would also be cast as proof of her intent for the ambush to target civilians such as Mon Mothma. Sloane’s presence on the ground would be attributed to the need to sell the genuineness of the peace talks. Her unwavering loyalty to the Empire and hatred of the Rebellion would be sold as the fuel for her motive a to personally oversee and witness the crippling ambush. Prosecutors would paint the picture that Admiral Sloane intended to carry out a decapitating strike against NR civilian leadership and citizens in the heart of their territory in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war.
As a result, the NR would have a strong circumstantial case that Admiral Sloane knew that civilians would be intentionally targeted in the ambush and should be held criminally liable.
For Admiral Sloane, the prospect of having everything she worked to achieve twisted around to prove her guilt is reason enough for to keep running. Since Sloane’s star defense witness also happens to be the same shadowy Imperial who set her up to take the fall on Chandrila, the odds that she’ll turn herself in and trust in the New Republic judicial system are approximately 3,720 to 1. In the end, all this talk of a possible Star Wars war crimes tribunal makes the legal geek in me wish Empire’s End would be one big Star Wars legal thriller, complete with Mr. Bones as the wacky (and slightly maniacal) bailiff:
A fan can dream, right?