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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Some Other Times

After attempting, in ever-more Comrade Dan Rather-like fashion, to write whatever the hell they think the news ought to be yesterday (see the Breaking News? post below) the NY Times is at it again:

Kerry’s Pamphleteer: The Times is pulling out all the stops.

Thus, this morning's page-one screamer reports that the administration has reversed itself and is denying the protections of the Geneva Conventions to some
of the fighters captured in Iraq — which, for example, justifies permitting them to be removed from the country for interrogation purposes.

This may be the most transparent example yet (at least this week) of the Times's trying to make something out of nothing at Bush's expense. Members of the international network of Islamic terrorists against whom we are at war are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 whether they are captured in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pittsburgh.

Now, lets get something off the table: I don't condone torture or other degradations of the type that went on at Abu-Gharib. Basic human rights (food, water, etc.) should be extended to any prisoner. What happened at Abu-Gharib is a black-eye for our country, but has also (through the trial and punishment of those involved) been an opportunity to show the world how our system of justice works.

But this issue isn't torture and treating soldiers like sex-toys or mannequins to be positioned and posed. Why?

During wartime, combatants are privileged to employ military force if they are members of a national army, or of a militia that is part of such an army and that conducts itself accordingly — meaning that its members are subject to a formal chain of command, wear uniforms, carry their weapons openly, and conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

What are those laws and customs? In the Fall 2003 issue of the National Interest, the eminent scholars David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey usefully summarized those long ago accepted "by all civilized states":
only sovereign states have the right to make war;
civilians cannot be deliberately attacked;
combatants can be attacked either en masse or individually;
quarter is to be granted when sought;
lawful combatants, when taken prisoner or otherwise incapacitated by wounds, are to be accorded the respect and privileges due prisoners of war (POW's);
and while all forms of force can be deployed in combat, certain weapons designed to cause unnecessary suffering are proscribed.
Does this sound like Al Queda or any of the other insurgents pouring into Iraq from various hiding holes around the globe?

Not to me either.

Terrorists flip these laws on their heads: They are not state actors; they intentionally target civilians; they torture, behead, and otherwise execute their prisoners; and, when not crashing airliners into skyscrapers, they actively seek chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons to maximize carnage. As a matter of law they are patently not entitled to Geneva protections. As a matter of common sense, it would be suicidal to accord them such protections because that would reward and legitimize their tactics.

Unlike my friend Wes (who, by the way I respect greatly, and whos support of Kerry is a constant brain-bender for me) I don't see the treatment of Al-Queda and other illegitimate combatants (terrorists) as a blow to our future ability to claim Geneva Convention rights for our captured servicemen and women.

First, in a war with terrorists, we have seen that pleas regarding treatment of prisoners are fruitless anyway. How many heads must be lopped off before we conclude they have no desire to adhere to any "rules"? (And, this has gone on long before a hand-full of rogue servicemen and -women decided to play human pyramid with naked Iraqi soldiers.)

Second, our servicemen and -women who might become POWs would be covered under the Geneva Convention because they would be acting as legitimate combatants under the flag of a sovereign nation, and would be held responsible for reasonable prosecution of the war (if there is such a thing). The legitimacy of our claims for Geneva protections for some future POW does not depend on the morality (or obvious lack of morality) of the Abu-Gharib Prison perpetrators.

That, however, is all beside the point for present purposes. The administration has not contended that those [legitimate] Iraqi fighters are without Geneva protections regardless of what international law technically mandates. At issue now are the thousands of non-Iraqi terrorists who have moved their barbarous ways into Iraq.

Al Qaeda terrorists do not have any more right to stay in Iraq under benevolent captivity than they had to enter to country and begin murdering civilians and our troops — not to mention trying to foment civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Under existing international law, they may not be tortured; and unlike their own practices, we won't be beheading them and beaming the tape over to al-Jezeera.

Sorry, Wes, but I just don't see the issue the way you do.

I still respect you though.


At 2:47 AM, Blogger Wesley Fryer said...

I agree that most of the discussion about terrorists respecting the rights of our soldiers under the Geneva Conventions or any other standard of basic human rights is pretty fruitless. These guys are not going to be nice, and that is just the way it is.

I am not saying we should "be nice," but I am saying we should respect basic human rights, like right to due process and a trial, and not try to say that because we move somebody to Guantanemo then we can hold them as long as we want without any type of accountability to anyone-- that is just so ridiculous. I read recently on a BBCNews post that a British court has made a similar ruling for the Brits holding terrorists. If someone has commited criminal acts of terrorism, then by all means let's see the evidence and let justice be served-- but I think we live in a pretty scary day when our own US military forces are told by their commander and chief that they don't need to produce any types of evidence-- they can hold anyone for as long as they want on a suspicion of guilt.

The reference to "only sovereign states have the right to make war" strikes me as interesting too... only since I recently watched "American Treasure" at the movies, and was reminded of how our own founding fathers were considered terrorists and illigitimate, non-state actors by the ruling British government of the day...


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