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The Case Against Finn

Following his violent escape from the First Order Star Destroyer Finalizer, FN-2187 (or “Finn,” as he is called by the Resistance terrorists) was tried by court-martial in absentia for a litany of alleged crimes under the First Order Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The following is an excerpt from the transcript of closing arguments dealing with FN-2187’s alleged desertion in First Order General Court-Martial TC-3263827, FIRST ORDER v. FN-2187.

MILITARY JUDGE: Prosecution, do you wish to present a closing argument?

PROSECUTOR: Yes, your Honor.

MILITARY JUDGE: You may proceed.

PROSECUTOR:

A cowardly betrayal. Rather than stand and do his duty, FN-2187 was a coward who ran, betraying the First Order and all it stands for.

Cowardice and betrayal are the two cornerstones of this case. Over the course of this trial you have heard ample evidence of each. The empty chair at the defense table should be a powerful image that stays with each of you throughout your deliberations. That chair has been empty throughout this trial because FN-2187 remains a fugitive…a fugitive who is unwilling to face the consequences for his actions to this very day. The weight of the evidence before you demands but one conclusion: FN-2187 is guilty of desertion beyond any shadow of a doubt.

FN-2187’s motive for betraying the First Order was a simple one: pure, unadulterated cowardice. You heard testimony from several of the stormtroopers that accompanied FN-2187 to the surface of Jakku, including FN-3181. Not one of those troopers saw FN-2187 fire a single shot from his blaster, even as the enemies in Tuanul Village put up fierce resistance. Captain Phasma, one of our finest soldiers, also testified that FN-2187 failed to obey her direct command to open fire on the last pocket of aggressors. She confronted him shortly after their return to the Finalizer and found the trooper with his helmet off against regulation, appearing frightened. FN-2187’s cowardly display on Jakku was a prime motive for him to flee, as was his fear of being held accountable for his failures by Captain Phasma.

The defense has offered you FN-2187’s training records and touted the fact that he showed no prior signs of non-conformity before Jakku. Those are irrelevant distractions. Captain Phasma explained that despite the rigors of her trooper training program, one cannot fully predict how a soldier will react when faced with real combat. FN-2187’s own actions on the field of battle prove that was a coward, afraid of performing his basic duties as a servant of the First Order.

No sooner had FN-2187 returned from his first combat mission than he cast off any remaining loyalty to the First Order by collaborating and planning an escape with a known Resistance operative. Prosecution Exhibit 15, the holorecordings from Finalizer security cams, definitively shows FN-2187 helping free Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, who was captured during the battle on Jakku. Captain Phasma unequivocally confirmed that FN-2187 had no authority to leave the Finalizer following the Jakku mission. Nevertheless, FN-2187’s plan was to act on his cowardice by escaping the Finalizer and deserting the First Order.

Despite the defense’s contention, FN-2187 was not under any duress at the time. No one forced FN-2187 to leave the star destroyer. Instead, his actions were a series of conscious decisions meant to accomplish his goal of desertion. Watch those holorecordings carefully and you will see that FN-2187 remains in control the entire time as he and Poe Dameron enter Hanger Bay 2. FN-2187 guides Poe Dameron by the arm through the ship and into the hangar bay. He keeps hold of his blaster rifle the entire time and is in no apparent danger.

Even though he had full access to the comms and emergency alert system in his helmet, FN-2187 made no effort to raise the alarm or call for help. Given his training in hand-to-hand combat, he could have easily engaged and defeated the Resistance scum if he had truly been in distress. Instead, FN-2187 snuck into a TIE fighter with the prisoner, intent on completing his escape plan. Most damning of all, FN-2187 opened fire on First Order troops from the TIE fighter to complete his escape. The defense sought to pin that death and destruction on Poe Dameron, but watch the recordings carefully—it was the TIE’s rear-facing cannons that wrought most of the damage. Since FN-2187 occupied the TIE’s co-pilot seat, he would have been in control of those guns.

Collectively, that is all clear evidence that FN-2187 fled the First Order of his own volition. But to be guilty of desertion, there must also be evidence that he intended to remain permanently away from the First Order. Fortunately, you have a figurative mountain of evidence before you to prove that element of the crime. You heard from two of the stormtroopers sent to Jakku to capture FN-2187 after he crash-landed. They recovered his stormtrooper armor, which FN-2187 cast off to conceal his true identity.

Not only did he ditch his armor, but those same troopers also testified that they spotted FN-2187 wearing a brown leather jacket as a disguise over his black body suit in Niima Outpost. And what did FN-2187 do when he saw First Order troops? He didn’t call out for help or raise the alarm. No, he ran once again, this time joining with an unknown female before blasting his way off planet, killing two brave First Order pilots in the process.

FN-2187’s violent and desperate escapes from the Finalizer and Jakku would ordinarily be evidence enough of his intent to permanently desert the First Order. However, you have also seen evidence that FN-2187 further betrayed the First Order by joining the Resistance. Numerous stormtroopers testified that FN-2187 was fighting alongside Resistance forces on Takodana. FN-2187 can clearly be seen fighting against our soldiers in the gun tape from TIE fighters that were providing close air support for First Order troops, which is contained in Prosecution Exhibit 34.

Motivated by cowardice, FN-2187 fled the First Order and has been doing everything within his power to remain away. He betrayed his unit, his leaders, and his friends. He betrayed each of us. Therefore, the evidence before you makes it crystal clear that FN-2187 committed desertion by leaving the First Order with the intent to remain away permanently.

Star Wars Battlefront 2: It’s Treason, Then

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for the Battlefront 2 single player campaign follow below.

*Now this is the story all about how Iden’s life got flipped, turned upside down*

Commander Iden Versio, the central character of Star Wars Battlefront 2, goes through quite the roller coaster ride during the single player campaign. In short order, she goes from leader the elite Special Forces team known as Inferno Squad and hero of the Empire, to a marked fugitive who stands accused of treason. By all accounts, Commander Versio is in deep bantha poodoo. But while the accusations against her are severe, does Iden have a legitimate defense? 

First up, lets take a look at the facts of her case. After the second Death Star is obliterated, Operation Cinder, Emperor Palpatine’s dastardly contingency plan, kicks in. Operation Cinder calls for wiping out a number of Imperial worlds, including Vardos, Iden Versio’s homeworld.

Iden is naturally horrified at the mission, but her father, Admiral Garrick Versio, dismisses her concerns about the mission, showcasing the very finest in blind allegiance. Admiral Versio puts the Emperor’s plan in motion. He activates a network of satellites above Vardos that trigger massive storms designed to destroy everything on the planet. The Admiral then issues a direct order for Iden to travel to the surface and evacuate a single Imperial official, Protectorate Gleb.

Once on Vardos, Commander Versio decides to go beyond her father’s orders to save a number of civilians. Gideon Hask, another Inferno Squad member, confronts Iden and accuses her of treason for betraying Inferno Squad’s orders. Iden refuses to yield, shoots Hask in the leg as a parting gift, and quickly becomes hunted as a traitor.

The forecast on Vardos? Cloudy with a chance of apocalypse.

Since Gideon Hask’s angry proclamation isn’t exactly a formal indictment, how exactly would Commander Versio be charged? As a military officer, Iden would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In the real world, the UCMJ is the body of law that governs the conduct of all military members. Service members who break the law can face courts-martial, which are federal trials, complete with a military judge and panel (jury) of senior service members. Iden has firsthand experience with the Imperial military justice system, having been court-martialed once before as a part of a covert Inferno Squad operation.

Interestingly, the UCMJ has no specific article covering treason. That doesn’t mean Iden gets off scot-free, though. While it may seem odd that the military’s criminal code doesn’t cover treason, the omission was not a mistake. Treason is one of only three crimes identified in the U.S. Constitution, along with piracy and counterfeiting.

Have you been accused of piracy, treason, and/or counterfeiting? You’re Jabba the Hutt’s kind of scum! Apply for a job with Hutt Enterprises today!

Despite its mention in the Constitution, the actual criminal offense of treason is codified in 18 U.S. Code § 2381. Section 2381 uses the Constitutional definition of treason:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason.”

Although treason and many other federal crimes don’t appear in the UCMJ, prosecutors can still charge them. In real world courts-martial, Article 134 of the UCMJ is used as a means of charging federal offenses that are not covered in the UCMJ. Therefore, even though treason is not an offense in the military code, Iden could still be charged with treason as part of a court-martial.

While the Empire could certainly charge Iden with treason, do they have a solid case against her? In order to commit treason, one has to owe allegiance to the country. American citizenship is sufficient to trigger that obligation. As a citizen of Vardos, which was a loyal Imperial system, Iden would owe the same allegiance to the Empire.

U.S. military officers also owe allegiance by virtue of their oath of office, which is taken upon receiving a commission:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

As a commissioned Imperial officer, Iden Versio would have undoubtedly sworn to a similar oath when she graduated from the Imperial Academy on Coruscant. Thus, it’s safe to say Iden owed allegiance to the Empire.

Professor Obi-Wan’s crash course on treason.

Next, what acts could Imperial prosecutors use as evidence of treason? When you break the statute down, there are two ways to commit treason: (1) By levying war, or (2) By giving aid and comfort to enemies. The term “levying war” is borrowed from English law. It means, “the assembling of a body of men for the purpose of effecting by force a treasonable object….”

Setting aside Iden’s later decision to join the Rebellion, prosecutors would have a difficult time proving that Iden levied war against the Empire by saving civilians. Iden did not incite or organize civilians to go to war against the Empire. The civilians did not arm themselves or use force at Iden’s request. Instead, they simply wanted to get off world to avoid annihilation. While she may have violated her superior officer’s order, Iden’s compassionate act doesn’t amount to levying war against the Empire.

Prosecutors would have similar trouble proving that Iden provided aid and comfort to enemies of the Empire. While Iden obviously provided aid to civilians, they were not enemies of the Empire. The whole point behind Iden’s defiant act was that the people of Vardos were loyal citizens who deserved protection. When Operation Cinder started, Vardos civilians had not lifted a finger against the Empire, yet they suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of the Emperor’s wrath for no sensible reason. During the Vardos mission gameplay, citizens appear confused and scared, pleading with Imperial troops to let them leave as terrifying storms formed above. These are not the actions of enemies, but of the loyal citizens who are fearful for their lives. Imperial prosecutors could not reasonably claim that those same citizens suddenly became enemies simply because the Emperor decreed that the planet should be destroyed.

Palpatine can be awfully cranky when he doesn’t get his way.

Iden also lacked the mens rea, or guilty mind needed to commit treason. When confronted by Hask, Iden declared that it was the Empire’s job to save civilians from things like Operation Cinder. To her, the people of Vardos were still Imperial citizens who deserved to be protected from its military. The Emperor’s order did nothing to change that in Iden’s mind, which means that her actions were intended to be a measure of loyalty, not betrayal, of the Empire.

In the end, the crime of treason requires more than just defying the order of a superior officer. Iden’s choice to save Imperial civilians from imminent death simply does not amount to treason. Carl Sandburg once said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.” In Iden’s case, Imperial prosecutors would likely be doing a lot of pounding and yelling indignantly, albeit in very pleasant British accents.

Those Beasts! Is the First Order Liable for Destroying Maz’s Castle?

Maz Kanata’s fabled castle may have stood for a thousand years, but it didn’t last long when the First Order rolled into town with blasters cannons blazing. In the wake of the Battle of Takodana, we’re left to wonder whether Maz has any legal recourse against Kylo Ren and friends for the destruction they wrought?

Maz’s rules: 1) No fighting. 2) No reducing the castle to rubble.

Injuries and damage or loss of property are often unavoidable during real world overseas operations. The United States has an extensive framework of legal mechanisms by which local residents, allied forces, and host nation governments can make claims to be repaid for their losses. However, only certain U.S. laws allow for claims arising overseas.

For our purposes, we’ll assume Supreme Leader Snoke is somehow really interested in the rule of law and has therefore adopted a similar legal framework for the First Order. Since First Order forces were operating on Takodana, rather than their home “planet,” Starkiller Base, Maz would have to look to the set of claims laws that apply galaxy-wide. The big three claims acts that apply worldwide are the Personnel Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3721), the Military Claims Act (10 U.S.C. § 2733), and the Foreign Claims Act (10 U.S.C. § 2734).

The Personnel Claims Act (PCA) is limited to claims for loss and damage of military personnel and Department of Defense civilian employee property. Since Maz isn’t a First Order stormtrooper (wouldn’t that be an amazing little set of armor, though?) or other employee, she can’t file a claim for loss of the castle under the PCA. Similarly, the Military Claims Act (MCA) is limited to claims by U.S. citizens only. Maz doesn’t exactly seem to be a card-carrying First Order citizen, so the MCA would also offer her no help.

The Foreign Claims Act (FCA) is probably the most widely used statue by deployed U.S. forces. Not only does the FCA apply worldwide, but it also allows claims by foreign citizens for property loss or damage caused by U.S. military personnel. So far, the FCA is looking pretty good for Maz. Unfortunately, while the FCA allows for claims based on damage or loss caused by negligent or wrongful acts, the claim must result from noncombat activities. Maz’s prized watering hole was leveled as Resistance and First Order forces slugged it out in combat, which means she could not recover under the FCA.

Not paying Maz for the damage to her castle is a quick way to make her boyfriend pull your arms out of their sockets.

The bar on combat-related claims can be a major impediment in many real world military operations, especially when trying to gain and maintain the support of the local population. Despite the bar, the U.S. has allowed claims for combat damage in various conflicts. For example, following Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the United States created a special program to pay for combat-related injury and property damage. Similarly, after Operation Just Cause, the U.S. provided Panama with a broad set of recovery funds, which included money for combat-related claims.

In the Star Wars universe, the First Order must deal with the same sort of concerns that prompted the U.S. to make exceptions to the normal bar of combat-related claims. The Galactic Empire fell because their military might meant little without the broad support of the people. The Empire’s repeated decision to leave worlds in ruin after their operations was a big reason their support eroded so quickly. If the First Order wants to avoid falling into the same trap as their predecessors, they have to do more than just look really cool and win each battle. That means not leaving a trail of wreckage and devastation across the galaxy.

From that standpoint, it would be a smart move for the First Order to make an exception to the general rule barring combat-related claims and repay Maz for her losses. Her castle was one of the most prominent and long-standing gathering spots in the galaxy. Maz’s policy of welcoming all comers also made her a popular figure with all walks of life. Leaving her empty-handed amongst the debris would inevitably sow a tremendous amount of ill will towards the First Order. For an organization trying to govern the galaxy, that’s not exactly getting off on the right foot (neither is obliterating the Republic’s capital planet, but oh well).

The First Order is really crushing it at the public relations game.

However, Supreme Leader Snoke doesn’t exactly strike me as the generous type, which means the First Order may not want to grant a blanket exception to the bar against combat-related claims. Given the First Order’s rapidly expanding combat operations, such a move could prove extremely costly.

As an alternative, the First Order might instead empower its local commanders to pay out battle damage claims under certain circumstances. During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. implemented a program known as the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, or CERP. The program was designed as a tool for local commanders to respond to small-scale, urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects to assist the indigenous population. Commanders can also use CERP funds to repair collateral damage caused by combat operations. Despite its limits, the program has become an invaluable tool for commanders to achieve their missions through maintaining popular support.

The First Order would be wise to adopt a program similar to CERP and help rebuild her castle. Although rebuilding the castle is not a small-scale or low cost job, the First Order could use a CERP-like program to at least help start the rebuilding project. Since the program is decentralized, First Order commanders would have discretion on how the funds are used in their theater of operations, ensuring that credits are spent on projects that are actually necessary.

If the First Order wants to succeed where the Empire failed, it has to do more than freak people out with planet-sized lasers. While the First Order would not be liable for destroying Maz’s castle in combat, it would be a shortsighted move to leave it in ruins. After all, if Supreme Leader Snoke can afford gigantic new star destroyers and fancy golden robes, he can crack open his wallet to pay for some cinder blocks and masonry work for poor Maz Kanata.

The Dark Side Made Me Do It: Kylo Ren’s Insanity Defense

A once brilliant and gifted young man suddenly betrayed everything he held dear, developed a dark (possibly emo) alter ego, and now speaks to a melted helmet that once belonged to his grandfather.

Pretend you’re a criminal defense attorney who gets that sort of profile describing your newest client. I’d wager a fair number of galactic credits that you’d immediately start researching a possible insanity defense. By the end of The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren had amassed a rap sheet taller than Chewbacca with K2-SO sitting on his shoulders. While it might be easy to cast him off as a ruthless murderer, his fall to the dark side raises questions about whether he was actually legally responsible for his crimes. Suppose Kylo Ren was ultimately put on trial—could he successfully mount an insanity defense around the dark side and its effects?

Having conversations with a burned up piece of your dead grandfather seems like it should be a decent qualifier for the insanity defense.

 Given the nature of Kylo Ren’s crimes, we’ll assume that he would be tried by a military court using the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In addition to its criminal code, the UCMJ contains Rules for Court-Martial (RCM). The RCM dictate the entire court-martial process, from the initial investigation to post-trial and appellate matters. Those rules also set the limits for when a defendant can use the defense of lack of mental responsibility.

Court-martial defendants don’t have free rein to use any mental health problem under the sun as a defense. Under RCM 916(k) of the UCMJ, a lack of mental responsibility (more commonly known as the “insanity defense”) has strict limits. In order to use the affirmative defense, the accused must have been suffering from a severe mental disease or defect at the time of the offense.

Much like his grandfather, Kylo Ren likely suffers from a borderline personality disorder. Anakin Skywalker’s difficulty controlling his anger, impulsivity, unstableness, and his identity disturbance were among the factors that led French psychologist Dr. Eric Bui to conclude that he suffered from such a disorder. From angrily demolishing innocent control panels on the Finalizer to adopting a new personality (and an all-black wardrobe), or running a lightsaber through his poor dad, Kylo Ren exhibits many of the same symptoms. Kylo would therefore likely be diagnosed with a similar disorder.

Given its personnel issues, perhaps the First Order should divert a bit of its giant planet laser budget into an investment in one or two psychologists…

While it’s clear that Kylo is suffering from a mental disease, it’s not so clear that his problem qualifies as a severe defect under the law. Unfortunately, there is no bright line rule for what qualifies as “severe.” No military court has set an exact standard for what qualifies as severe. The jury instruction for mental responsibility found within the Military Judge’s Benchbook reflects the lack of clarity on the issue. It states, “[t]he term “severe mental disease or defect” can be no better defined in the law then by the use of the term itself. However, a severe mental disease or defect does not, in the legal sense, include an abnormality manifested only by…antisocial conduct or by nonpsychotic behavior disorders and personality disorders.”

Kylo’s borderline personality disorder may cause him serious issues, but he would face a tough battle establishing that it is a severe disorder. A better option might be to have his treating physicians explore whether the dark side manifested itself as a sort of psychosis, causing Kylo to lose touch with reality.

Even if Kylo Ren successfully argues that the dark side was a severe mental disease or defect, he would still face an uphill battle. Under the UCMJ, Kylo would bear the high burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that he not only had a severe mental disease or defect, but that it rendered him unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.

Unfortunately for Kylo, his own actions seem to suggest that he knew exactly what he was doing in many instances. Take his murder of Han, for example. Shortly before shish kebabing his dad, Kylo said that he was being torn apart. His words and initial hesitancy seemingly showed that Kylo was feeling genuine anguish over the choice that lay before him. It was also evidence that he had a firm grip on what he was doing and knew how wrong it was.

Kylo seemingly killed his father not because of a mental split from reality or some loss of control due to the dark side, but out of desperation to tap into the wellspring of power he saw in the dark side. Having just been shown up by Rey, his own powers had been called into question in front of Supreme Leader Snoke. As a result, he may have had a strong desire to increase his strength with the dark side to make up for that humiliation. Like his grandfather, his obsession with power may have led him down a dark path, but he was not totally out of control.

While those facts might all be great for Kylo’s continued career as Snoke’s crony, they would likely sink his chances at a successful insanity defense.

Ever the concerned dad, Han is right to look so surprised at how tough it is to mount an insanity defense.

Kylo shouldn’t feel too down in the dumps, though. After all, from 1990 to 2010, there were only roughly 7 not guilty by reason of insanity acquittals out of a total of 29,513 cases—a rate of about .02%. In the end, the dark side of the Force might be the pathway to many abilities…but successfully mounting an insanity defense with it probably isn’t one of them.

Rebel Terrorists? The Legality of Blowing Up Two Death Stars

You Rebel scum. The poor Galactic Empire always gets painted as the murderous bad guys in Star Wars. But from a certain point of view, one can sort of empathize with the Emperor’s legions in their collective anger towards the Rebels. After all, Alliance forces obliterated not one but two Death Stars, killing over 2 million Imperials in the process.

Those were men, women, and dianogas with families, many of whom likely joined the Empire out of a wholly non-evil desire to serve the galaxy. That kind of wholesale destruction begs the question of whether the Rebels cemented themselves as the biggest terrorists in the galaxy by unlawfully blowing up both Death Stars.

Valiant Imperial aces rush to protect their home against the radical Rebel attackers.

Before we talk about all the personnel aboard, lets consider whether both Death Stars were lawful military objectives themselves. Under the law of armed conflict not everything can be attacked at will—certain places and persons are legally protected from attack. For example, the Geneva Conventions forbids intentional attacks civilians or religious and cultural sites. Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions defines military objectives as “those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction…in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.”

Somewhere aboard the Death Star, Admiral Motti is yelling “BOOM! HEY VADER DID YOU SEE THAT—WHOSE POWER IS INSIGNIFICANT NOW?!”

Unfortunately for the Empire, both Death Stars fit that bill neatly and were therefore valid military objectives. The Death Stars were not designed to be floating research labs or peaceful exploration vessels. Instead, both were purpose-built military doomsday lasers intended to cement the Empire’s control over the galaxy. From wiping out Alderaan to destroying massive Rebel Mon Calamari cruisers in a single shot, the destructive power of the Death Stars significantly contributed to military action.

In the wake of Jedha, Scarif, and Alderaan, the first Death Star proved itself as a weapon unmatched by anything in the fledgling Rebel arsenal. The weapon threatened the very existence of the Alliance, not to mention thousands of innocent people across the galaxy. Destroying it therefore offered an absolute military advantage to the Rebels. Doing so would not only neutralize the most terrifying weapon the galaxy had ever seen, but it would also eliminate a tremendous amount of other enemy equipment and personnel.

Let’s also not forget that at the time of the Rebel attack, the first Death Star was not on some mercy mission to Yavin. It was there to, as Tarkin so eloquently put it, crush the Rebellion in one swift stroke, thereby ending the galactic civil war. Given the threat of imminent destruction, Rebel forces had an absolute right to act in self-defense and attack the Death Star. Even though the Rebels were initially on the offensive against the second Death Star, they had a similar right to self-defense once it started reducing the Rebel fleet to ash.

The Emperor’s presence on the second Death Star was an added enticement for the Rebels. As the leader of the Galactic Empire and commander-in-chief of its military forces, the Alliance rightly recognized that killing the Emperor would grant them an undeniable military advantage. Given his total control over Imperial forces, his death would likely decapitate the Empire and send its military into chaos and disarray. Therefore, there is no question that both Death Stars were valid military targets.

Alas, maybe Tarkin would have taken Chief Bast more seriously if he reminded him that they were standing on a gigantic valid military target.

Now what about those millions of poor Imperial souls who lost their lives to the Rebels’ treachery? Sadly, even though most of them didn’t even fire a shot, the throngs of Stormtroopers, officers, and other military personnel were perfectly legal targets.

The law of war dictates that only combatants or those directly participating in hostilities may be targeted. Combatants include anyone engaging in hostilities in an armed conflict on behalf of a party to the conflict. Imperials aboard both Death Stars were combatants by virtue of the fact that they were uniformed soldiers of the Empire. Imperial troops aboard the Death Stars may not have been leaning out of windows actively firing their blasters at Rebel ships, but nevertheless their status as Imperial soldiers effectively painted a bullseye on their backs. That means that it was perfectly legal for the Rebels to target every uniformed Imperial, whether an ace TIE pilot or stormtrooper on sanitation detail (sorry, Finn) aboard both Death Stars.

Don’t tell the Imperial propagandists, but the Rebels acted perfectly within the law of war when they destroyed both Death Stars. While the destruction of both battle stations led to a sobering loss of life, at least it made for a great fireworks show.

 

Did the First Order Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for Starkiller Base?

The Dark Side is known for raw power, not paperwork. In preparing to construct the ill-fated Starkiller Base, did the First Order prepare any sort of Environmental Impact Statement prior to turning the planet into a weapon?

Starkiller_Base_Approved_EIS

Requirements for Environmental Impact Statements

By way of comparison, and in no way comparing the First Order to the current EPA, Federal agencies undertaking a project that can significantly affect “the quality of the human environment,” must prepare a detailed statement on:

(i) The environmental impact of the proposed action,

(ii) Any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented,

(iii) Alternatives to the proposed action,

(iv) The relationship between local short-term uses of man’s environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and

(v) Any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.

42 U.S.C.S. § 4332.

Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) must be more than a checklist of assurances and alternatives. An EIS must indicate the agency undertook searching, realistic analysis of hazards, and candidly address those concerns. Foundation on Economic Trends v Weinberger 610 F Supp 829 (1985, DC Dist Col).

Courts review EIS to insure that the government took a “hard look” at possible environmental consequences, not highly speculative consequences. ESI’s will be approved if the document “adequately discloses potential impacts of project given information on hand and gives decision makers enough information so that intelligent decision can be made whether to proceed with project.” Enos v Marsh 616 F Supp 32, (1984, DC Hawaii), affirmed 769 F2d 1363, (1985, CA9 Hawaii).

Did General Armitage Hux take a “hard look” at the possible environmental consequences of turning a planet into a Super Weapon? Most likely not. Digging a trench across the equatorial axis of a planet that was visible from space, meant that thousands of miles of the planet had been excavated. How many indigenous animals had their habitats destroyed as entire continents were unearthed?

Weaponizing the power of a star through a planet sounds like a high risk activity. Any system failure could either do massive damage to the planet or destroy it. Furthermore, did the First Order consider that the failure of the Super Weapon oscillator could result in the destruction of the planet? Did they consider such a failure as a speculative consequence and not a possible one if the oscillator was destroyed? Given the fact the planet had a defensive shield, it appears the First Order took this risk as a possible one.

The First Order clearly did not have any interest in protecting the environment on Starkiller Base. The planet was a means to an end to execute a Neo-Doctrine of Fear. While the late Grand Moff Tarkin would have appreciated the vision, the First Order did not account for any adverse environmental effects of a planetary weapons system.

The Legal Geeks Last Jedi Countdown

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That euphoric feeling you have right about now isn’t from death sticks—it’s because we’re only a few days out from THE LAST JEDI.

Starting Sunday, December 10th, join The Legal Geeks contributor and resident hopeless Star Wars addict Thomas Harper for a series of daily new Star Wars articles counting down the last days before Rey, Finn, Luke, Leia, and the rest of the gang finally return.