Related Rule
United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 50. Destruction and Seizure of Property of an Adversary
The US Field Manual (1956) provides:
The measure of permissible devastation is found in the strict necessities of war. Devastation as an end in itself or as a separate measure of war is not sanctioned by the law of war. There must be some reasonably close connection between the destruction of property and the overcoming of the enemy’s army. Thus the rule requiring respect for private property is not violated through damage resulting from operations, movements, or combat activity of the army; that is, real estate may be used for marches, camp sites, construction of field fortifications, etc. Buildings may be destroyed for sanitary purposes or used for shelter for troops, the wounded and sick and vehicles and for reconnaissance, cover, and defense. Fences, woods, crops, buildings, etc., may be demolished, cut down, and removed to clear a field of fire, to clear the ground for landing field, or to furnish building materials or fuel if imperatively needed for the army. 
United States, Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, US Department of the Army, 18 July 1956, as modified by Change No. 1, 15 July 1976, § 56.
The manual also states: “It is especially forbidden to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” 
United States, Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, US Department of the Army, 18 July 1956, as modified by Change No. 1, 15 July 1976, § 58; see also § 393 (prohibition of destruction of real or personal private or public property in occupied territory, except when rendered absolutely necessary by military operations).
The manual further states that “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly,” is a grave breach of the 1949 Geneva Conventions I, II and IV and a war crime. 
United States, Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, US Department of the Army, 18 July 1956, as modified by Change No. 1, 15 July 1976, § 502.
Likewise, the manual states: “In addition to the ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the following acts are representative of violations of the law of war (‘war crimes’): … purposeless destruction.” 
United States, Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, US Department of the Army, 18 July 1956, as modified by Change No. 1, 15 July 1976, § 504(j).
The US Air Force Pamphlet (1976 incorporates the content of Article 23(g) of the 1907 Hague Regulations, i.e., that “it is especially forbidden … to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war”. 
United States, Air Force Pamphlet 110-31, International Law – The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations, US Department of the Air Force, 1976, § 5-2(b)(1); see also § 14-6(b) (citing Article 53 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV which is “comparable to Article 23(g) [of the 1907] Hague Regulations”).
The Pamphlet further states:
In addition to the grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the following acts are representative of situations involving individual criminal responsibility: … wilful and wanton destruction and devastation not justified by military necessity. 
United States, Air Force Pamphlet 110-31, International Law – The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations, US Department of the Air Force, 1976, § 15-3(c)(5).
The US Soldier’s Manual (1984) gives the following instructions:
Don’t cause destruction beyond the requirement of your mission. Don’t destroy an entire town or village to stop sniper fire from a single building. … Limit destruction only to that necessary to accomplish your mission. Avoid unnecessary … damage to property. 
United States, Your Conduct in Combat under the Law of War, Publication No. FM 27-2, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, November 1984, p. 8.
The manual further provides that “unnecessary destruction of property [is a violation] of the law of war for which you can be prosecuted”. 
United States, Your Conduct in Combat under the Law of War, Publication No. FM 27-2, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, November 1984, p. 20.
The US Instructor’s Guide (1985) provides:
The Hague and the Geneva Conventions and the customary law of war require that American soldiers –
Not inflict unnecessary destruction … in accomplishing the military mission.
The customary law of war and [the 1907 Hague Regulations] … established definite rules which prohibit the destruction or the seizure of enemy property unless necessary …
Any excessive destruction … not required to accomplish the objective is illegal as a violation of the law of war …
[C]ause no greater destruction of enemy property than necessary to accomplish the military mission. 
United States, Instructor’s Guide – The Law of War, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, April 1985, pp. 4–7.
The US Rules of Engagement for Operation Desert Storm (1991) reminds troops to “restrict destruction to what your mission requires”. 
United States, Desert Storm – Rules of Engagement, Pocket Card, US Central Command, January 1991, reprinted in Operational Law Handbook, International and Operational Law Department, The Judge Advocate General’s School, United States Army, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1995, pp. 8-7 and 8-8, § 4.
The US Naval Handbook (1995) states: “The following acts are representative war crimes: … Wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages or devastation not justified by the requirements of military operations.” 
United States, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-2.1/COMDTPUB P5800.7, issued by the Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Headquarters, US Marine Corps, and Department of Transportation, US Coast Guard, October 1995 (formerly NWP 9 (Rev. A)/FMFM 1-10, October 1989), § 6.2.5(6).
The US Manual for Military Commissions (2007), Part IV, Crimes and Elements, includes in the list of crimes triable by military commissions:
DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW OF WAR.
a. Text. “Any person subject to this chapter who intentionally destroys property belonging to another person in violation of the law of war shall be punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct.”
b. Elements.
(1) The accused destroyed property;
(2) The property belonged to another person;
(3) The accused destroyed the property without that person’s consent;
(4) The accused intended to destroy such property;
(5) The destruction of the property was in violation of the law of war; and
(6) The destruction took place in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict.
c. Comment. A “violation of the law of war,” may be established by proof of the status of the accused as an unlawful combatant or by proof of the character of the property destroyed, or both.
d. Maximum punishment. Confinement for 10 years. 
United States, Manual for Military Commissions, published in implementation of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, 10 U.S.C. §§ 948a, et seq., 18 January 2007, Part IV, § 6(16), p. IV-13.
The US Naval Handbook (2007) states that examples of war crimes that could be considered as grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions include: “Wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages or devastation not justified by the requirements of military operations.” 
United States, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-12.1/COMDTPUB P5800.7, issued by the Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Headquarters, US Marine Corps, and Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard, July 2007, § 6.2.6(6); see also § 8.9.1.1.
The US Manual for Military Commissions (2010), Part IV, Crimes and Elements, includes in the list of crimes triable by military commissions:
DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW OF WAR.
a. Text. “Any person subject to this chapter who intentionally destroys property belonging to another person in violation of the law of war shall be punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct.”
b. Elements.
(1) The accused destroyed property;
(2) The property belonged to another person;
(3) The accused destroyed the property without that person’s consent;
(4) The accused intended to destroy such property;
(5) The destruction of the property was in violation of the law of war; and
(6) The destruction took place in the context of and was associated with hostilities.
c. Comment. For purposes of offenses (13) [intentionally causing serious bodily injury], (15) [murder in violation of the law of war], (16) [destruction of property in violation of the law of war], and (27) [spying] in Part IV of this Manual (corresponding to offenses enumerated in paragraphs (13), (15), (16), and (27) of § 950t of title 10, United States Code), an accused may be convicted in a military commission for these offenses if the commission finds that the accused employed a means (e.g., poison gas) or method (e.g., perfidy) prohibited by the law of war; intentionally attacked a “protected person” or “protected property” under the law of war; or engaged in conduct traditionally triable by military commission (e.g., spying; murder committed while the accused did not meet the requirements of privileged belligerency) even if such conduct does not violate the international law of war.
d. Maximum punishment. Confinement for 10 years. 
United States, Manual for Military Commissions, published in implementation of Chapter 47A of Title 10, United States Code, as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009, 10 U.S.C, §§ 948a, et seq., 27 April 2010, § 5(16), pp. IV-13 and IV-14.
The US Regulations Governing the Trials of Accused War Criminals in the Pacific Region I (1945) established military commissions which had jurisdiction over offences such as “wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages” and “devastation, destruction or damage of public or private property not justified by military necessity”. 
United States, Regulations Governing the Trials of Accused War Criminals in the Pacific Region I, 1945, Regulation 5.
The US Regulations Governing the Trials of Accused War Criminals in the Pacific Region II (1945) established military commissions which had jurisdiction over offences such as “wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages; or devastation not justified by military necessity”. 
United States, Regulations Governing the Trials of Accused War Criminals in the Pacific Region II, 1945, Regulation 2(b).
Under the US War Crimes Act (1996), grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, as well as violations of Article 23(g) of the 1907 Hague Regulations, are war crimes. 
United States, War Crimes Act, 1996, § 2441(c)(1) and (2).
The US Military Commissions Act (2006), passed by Congress following the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, amends Title 10 of the United States Code as follows:
§ 950v. Crimes triable by military commissions
“ …
“(b) OFFENSES.—The following offenses shall be triable by military commission under this chapter at any time without limitation:
“ …
“(16) DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW OF WAR.—Any person subject to this chapter who intentionally destroys property belonging to another person in violation of the law of war shall [be] punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct. 
United States, Military Commissions Act, 2006, Public Law 109-366, Chapter 47A of Title 10 of the United States Code, 17 October 2006, pp. 120 Stat. 2628 and 2629, § 950v(b)(16).
The US Military Commissions Act (2009) amends Chapter 47A of Title 10 of the United States Code as follows:
§ 950t. Crimes triable by military commission
“The following offenses shall be triable by military commission under this chapter at any time without limitation:
“ …
“(16) DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW OF WAR.—Any person subject to this chapter who intentionally destroys property belonging to another person in violation of the law of war shall [be] punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct. 
United States, Military Commissions Act, 2009, § 950t(16).
In the List case (The Hostages Trial) before the US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1948, the accused, high-ranking officers in the German army, were charged with war crimes, inter alia, for wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages and other acts of devastation for which there was no military necessity. In its judgment, the Tribunal stated:
Military necessity has been invoked by the defendants as justifying … the destruction of villages and towns in the occupied territory. Military necessity permits a belligerent, subject to the laws of war, to apply any amount and kind of force to compel the complete submission of the enemy with the least possible expenditure of time, life and money. In general, it sanctions measures by an occupant necessary to protect the safety of his forces and to facilitate the success of his operations … The destruction of property to be lawful must be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war. Destruction as an end in itself is a violation of International Law. There must be some reasonable connection between the destruction of property and the overcoming of the enemy forces. It is lawful to destroy railways, lines of communication or any other property that might be utilised by the enemy. Private homes and churches even may be destroyed if necessary for military operations. It does not admit of wanton devastation of a district or the wilful infliction of suffering upon its inhabitants for the sake of suffering alone.
With regard to the destruction ordered by one of the accused, the Tribunal held:
There is evidence in the record that there was no military necessity for this destruction and devastation. An examination of the facts in retrospect can well sustain this conclusion. But we are obliged to judge the situation as it appeared to the defendant at the time. If the facts were such as would justify the action by the exercise of judgement, after giving consideration to all factors and existing possibilities, even though the conclusion reached may have been faulty, it cannot be said to be criminal. After giving careful consideration to all the evidence on the subject, we are convinced that the defendant cannot be held criminally responsible although when viewed in retrospect, the danger did not actually exist.
The Hague Regulations prohibited “The destruction or seizure of enemy property except in cases where this destruction or seizure is urgently required by the necessities of war.” … The Hague Regulations are mandatory provisions of International Law. The prohibitions therein contained control and are superior to military necessities of the most urgent nature except where the Regulations themselves specifically provide the contrary. The destruction of public and private property by retreating military forces which would give aid and comfort to the enemy, may constitute a situation coming within the exceptions contained in Article 23(g). We are not called upon to determine whether urgent military necessity for the devastation and destruction in the province of Finnmark actually existed. We are concerned with the question whether the defendant at the time of its occurrence acted within the limits of honest judgment on the basis of the conditions prevailing at the time. The course of a military operation by the enemy is loaded with uncertainties, such as the numerical strength of the enemy, the quality of his equipment, his fighting spirit, the efficiency and daring of his commanders, and the uncertainty of his intentions. These things when considered with his own military situation provided the facts or want thereof which furnished the basis for the defendant’s decision to carry out the “scorched earth” policy in Finnmark as a precautionary measure against an attack by superior forces. It is our considered opinion that the conditions as they appeared to the defendant at the time were sufficient, upon which he could honestly conclude that urgent military necessity warranted the decision made. This being true, the defendant may have erred in the exercise of his judgment but he was guilty of no criminal act. We find the defendant not guilty on this portion of the charge. 
United States, Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, List case (The Hostages Trial), Judgment, 19 February 1948.
In the Von Leeb case (The German High Command Trial) before the US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1948, the accused, former high-ranking officers in the German army and navy, were charged, inter alia, with war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in that they participated in atrocities such as wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages and devastation not justified by military necessity. The Tribunal stated: “Most of the prohibitions of both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, considered in substance, are clearly an expression of the accepted views of civilized nations.” The Tribunal found:
The devastation prohibited by the [1907 Hague Regulations] and the usages of war is that not warranted by military necessity. This rule is clear enough but the factual determination as to what constitutes military necessity is difficult. Defendants in this case were in many instances in retreat under arduous conditions wherein their commands were in serious danger of being cut off. Under such circumstances, a commander must necessarily make quick decisions to meet the particular situation of his command. A great deal of latitude must be accorded to him under such circumstances. What constitutes devastation beyond military necessity in these situations requires detailed proof of an operational and tactical nature. We do not feel that in this case the proof is ample to establish the guilt of any defendant herein on this charge. 
United States, Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Von Leeb case (The German High Command Trial), Judgment, 28 October 1948.
In a memorandum entitled “International Law Providing Protection to the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict” submitted to the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1992 prior to the adoption of Resolution 47/37, Jordan and the United States stated, inter alia: “It is a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and is a war crime, as set out in article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to extensively destroy and appropriate property when not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” 
Jordan, International Law Providing Protection to the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict, annexed to Letter dated 28 September 1992 to the Chairman of the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly, UN Doc. A/C.6/47/3, 28 September 1992, § 1(e).
In 1992, in its final report to Congress on the conduct of the Gulf War, the US Department of Defense stated:
On their departure, Iraqi forces set off previously placed explosive charges on Kuwait’s oil wells, a vengeful act of wanton destruction …
As a general principle, the law of war prohibits the intentional destruction of civilian objects not imperatively required by military necessity.
Specific Iraqi war crimes include: …
– Unnecessary destruction of Kuwaiti private and public property, in violation of Article 23(g), [1907 Hague Regulations] …
– In its indiscriminate Scud missile attacks, unnecessary destruction of Saudi Arabian and Israeli property, in violation of Article 23(g) [1907 Hague Regulations].
– In its intentional release of oil into the Persian Gulf and its sabotage of the Al-Burqan and Ar-Rumaylah oil fields in Kuwait, unnecessary destruction in violation of Articles 23(g) … [1907 Hague Regulations and] 53 and 147, GC [IV]. 
United States, Department of Defense, Final Report to Congress on the Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, 10 April 1992, Appendix O, The Role of the Law of War, ILM, Vol. 31, 1992, pp. 620, 622, 634 and 635; see also p. 633.
In 1992, in a report submitted pursuant to paragraph 5 of UN Security Council Resolution 771 (1992) on grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV committed in the former Yugoslavia, the United States mentioned several acts of wanton devastation and destruction of property. 
United States, Former Yugoslavia: Grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, annexed to Letter dated 22 September 1992 to the UN Secretary-General, UN Doc. S/24583, 23 September 1992, pp. 8 and 9.