Last month, the United States targeted a “cash distribution site” where millions of dollars belonging to ISIS had reportedly been stored. The target was considered so valuable that it would have justified a high number of civilian casualties (rumors say that the magic number was 50). Yet, the determination of whether money is civilian or military in nature, assuming this test is even relevant, is not as straightforward as it seems.
The nature of money makes it difficult to ascertain its origin or purpose. Perhaps for this reason, the law of armed conflict does not assign a status — civilian or military — to money. However, the well-established rule that civilians cannot be targeted based solely on the ground that they pay taxes to the state suggests that money does not turn people (or objects) into legitimate targets.
The strike against ISIS’s money marks a departure from this traditional interpretation. We have little information about the target itself — one possibility is that it was the Diwan Bayt al-Mal, ISIS’s finances and currency authority —or the legal rationale behind the strike, but we may speculate on what it might have been.
Unless the building itself was the target, which does not seem to be the case, the strike supposes that money may constitute a legitimate target; i.e., that money could be either civilian or military in nature. Whether or not money constitutes a legitimate target would depend, I assume, on its projected use. Funds destined for the military effort would be regarded as a legitimate target, but funds earmarked for the wellbeing of the civilian population would not.
While it is virtually impossible to isolate funds destined for the military effort from the broader pool of resources in a state apparatus, the situation might be different in a terrorist organization. Continue Reading »