OFFENSES AGAINST COMBATANTS.
(a) The Killing of the Wounded and of Prisoners.
In dealing with the treatment of the wounded and of prisoners and the cases in which the former appear to have been killed when helpless, and the latter at, or after, the moment of capture, we are met by some peculiar difficulties, because such acts may not in all cases be deliberate and cold-blooded violations of the usages of war. Soldiers who are advancing over a spot where the wounded have fallen may conceivably think that some of these lying prostrate are shamming dead, or, at any rate, are so slightly wounded as to be able to attack or to fire from behind when the advancing force has passed, and thus they may be led into killing those whom they would otherwise have spared. There will also be instances in which men intoxicated with the frenzy of battle slay even those whom on reflection they might have seen to be incapable of further harming them. The same kind of fury may vent itself on persons who are already surrendering, and even a soldier who is usually self-controlled or humane may, in the heat of the moment, go on killing, especially in a general melee, those who were offering to surrender. This is most likely to happen when such a soldier has been incensed by an act of treachery or is stirred to revenge by the death of a comrade to whom he is attached. Some cases of this kind appear in the evidence. Such things happen in a1l wars as isolated instances, and the circumstances may be pleaded in extenuation of acts otherwise shocking. We have made due allowance for these considerations and have rejected those cases in which there is a reasonable doubt as to whether those who killed the wounded knew that the latter were completely disabled. Nevertheless, after making all allowances, there remain certain instances in which it is clear that quarter was refused to persons desiring to surrender when it ought to have been given, or that persons already so wounded as to be incapable of fighting further were wantonly shot or bayoneted.
The cases to which references are given all present features generally similar, and in several of them men who had been left wounded in the trenches when a trench was carried by the enemy were found, when their comrades subsequently retook the trench, to have been slaughtered, although evidently helpless, or else they would have escaped with the rest of the retreating force. For instance, a witness says:
“About Sept. 20 our regiment took part in an engagement with the Germans. After we had retired into our trenches, a few minutes after we got back into them, the Germans retired into their trenches. The distance between the trenches of the opposing forces was about 400 yards. I should say about fifty or sixty of our men had been left lying on the field from our trenches. After we got back to them I distinctly saw German soldiers come out of their trenches, go over the spots where our men were lying, and bayonet them. Some of our men were lying nearly half way between the trenches.”