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March 11, 2008

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And Adm. Fallon resigned.

Jonathan Schwarz points out another thing that the exhaustive review apparently found no evidence of: that Bush was correct to call Saddam "the guy who tried to kill my dad."

maybe Mr Pundit's English teacher hasn't made it up to the chapter on verb tenses yet.

or, as i theorized over at Balloon Juice, maybe Mr. Pundit's intellect is so deep and vast that it sees past, present and future as one undifferentiated whole. to him, AQ in Iraq now is the same as AQ in Iraq then because his mind works outside the pedestrian limitations of time. today is just like yesterday, but with fewer Republicans in Congress. the future will be the same.

I have yet to read a Gatway Pundit post where the facts or basic logic supported his argument.

Do people read this stuff? Do they think this stuff?
This is, like, Woody Allen doing a goof on winknutz, right?

Some marchers reportedly accused the Sadrist leadership of reaching a quiet agreement with U.S. forces in order to pacify the capital, but said they opposed such an agreement, preferring that the Sadrist current offer resistance to the American presence.

Someone's got to, or U.S. troops will be there for a hundred years.

Click your ruby slippper heels together 3 times and say...

The surge is working

The surge is working

The surge is working

Nell: Someone's got to, or U.S. troops will be there for a hundred years.

Jeeze Nell, given what “offer resistance to the American presence” actually means in this case I’m assuming that just came out wrong…

Jeeze Nell, given what “offer resistance to the American presence” actually means

It means Iraqis behaving the way you would if a foreign army invaded and occupied the US, claiming they were there to "bring democracy", and were still there five years and about 13 380 000 dead Americans later, with no apparent intention of ever leaving.

Other than noting that if you’re now up to 13 million dead I must be a few Lancet reports behind, I think I’ll let Nell clarify for herself if she so chooses.

I'm guessing that's proportional from the Iraq population to the US population, OCS.

I assume it is the percentage of Iraqi's dead taken from the current US population, OCSteve.

he, I just updated before I postend and you weren't there farmgirl ;)

Marbel and farmgirl are both right: 1.2 million dead as a proportion of the population of Iraq, corresponds to 13.38 million dead as a proportion of the population of the US. Also, about twice that number fled as refugees in Mexico or Canada, and as many again internal refugees within their own country.

Katrina killed 1,836 people (plus 705 "missing") and (I think) left just over 200 000 people as internal refugees - or about 120th of the number, proportional to the population, of internal refugees had what was done to Iraq, been done to the US.

Ah. OK then. That makes more sense. (Not to be taken as agreement with your 1.2M figure.)

I suppose I might just go blow up a few of my neighbors in protest of invading troops.

Yep. In a heartbeat. If only to earn a few extra bucks.

(Not to be taken as agreement with your 1.2M figure.)

Not mine. The latest information from Opinion Research Business, which confirms the results published by the Lancet back in summer 2006.

As for Slartibartfast's presumption that Iraqis are only ever killed by other Iraqis: well.

I said that? Wow. It's amazing what I write in invisible pixels, these days.

Here's a whole lot of invisible pixels. Knock yourself out.

No, it didn't come out wrong. I wasn't making a recommendation but stating a fact.

There are lots of ways for people in Iraq, in the United States, and in the rest of the world to offer resistance to the American presence in Iraq.

The form of resistance that the demonstrating Sadrists are recommending is not something I'm cheering on, but something I recognize as inevitable -- and that non-pacifists must recognize as at least as legitimate as the use of force by U.S. troops.

For myself, I renounced support for armed struggle / violent resistance / military action of all kinds about twelve years ago, on moral and pragmatic grounds.

What I am recommending is for U.S. citizens, including myself, to offer greater and more intense resistance to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The U.S. occupation is illegal, wrong, and unwise. It is based on lies. It has destroyed the lives of millions of Iraqis. It has killed nearly 4000 U.S. service members and wounded 30,000 more. It has cost a trillion dollars and will end up costing another trillion even if it were to end today. It is damaging to U.S. interests.

I made every one of these arguments, in public and to my representatives in Congress and the Senate, before the invasion. I've been publicly and actively working for an end to the U.S. occupation since it began. But I've not done all that I could, and I've definitely pulled back during electoral periods, buying the argument that there was no chance to affect U.S policy with Republican control of the White House and Congress.

However, it's clear to me that Democratic control of the White House and Congress is far from sufficient to assure a quick end to the occupation. If that's not clear to a majority of the U.S. public, it will become so shortly after the inauguration of a Democratic president next January.

At that point, we'll see what kind of a priority ending the war and occupation is for each person and politician.

Andrew's death is the responsibility not only of the Iraqi men who shot him, but of every politician who declined to de-fund the war.

What Slartibartfast said (sarcastically in the occupied-U.S. hypothetical):

"I might just go blow up a few of my neighbors in protest of invading troops."

This implies that he interprets the Sadrist demonstrators' call for resistance to the U.S. presence as meaning renewed attacks on Sunnis. My reading is that they mean renewed attacks on U.S. troops.

Unlike me, they are unlikely to show up in the comments section here to clarify their remarks. Until they do, readers here will have to decide whether Slarti's interpretation or mine is more plausible.

OCSteve's reaction to my earlier comment makes clear that he shared mine.

Of course, they're not mutually incompatible. The Sadrists may hope to renew attacks on U.S. troops and Sunnis. They have a record of both kinds of actions.

This implies that he interprets the Sadrist demonstrators' call for resistance to the U.S. presence as meaning renewed attacks on Sunnis.

No, I was speaking in general, and not in response to anything in particular other than the (what I consider to be, of course) absurd notion that the totality of Iraqi response to US occupation has been striking back against the occupiers.

Nell: OCSteve's reaction to my earlier comment makes clear that he shared mine.

Correct, I did. That’s why I hoped your statement came out wrong, or I was reading it wrong, or something.

I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but my interpretation of what you are saying is that the only way to get the troops out of Iraq at this point is for Sadr to loose his followers on American troops once again. More Americans troops dying in Iraq is the way to get them withdrawn. That may seem logical to some, and it may even be true. But I think I’ll pass on accepting that as a valid or even inevitable option.

And I understand your pacifism, and your apparent belief that Sadr and co. are entitled to use force. But what I hope you understand is that a lot of those dead and wounded troops you mentioned got that way due to restrictive ROE and at least a substantial number of troops and their leaders doing their best to avoid civilian casualties. What you see as inevitable could quickly lead to those ROE being shredded. What will be inevitable is Fallujah Part III, except that the city names will be different.

What you see as inevitable could quickly lead to those ROE being shredded. What will be inevitable is Fallujah Part III, except that the city names will be different.

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but my interpretation of what you are saying is that the only way to get the troops out of Iraq at this point is for Sadr to loose his followers on American troops once again.

You are putting words in my mouth. Please re-read my post of 12:22.

There are many ways to pressure the U.S. government to end the occupation. Attacks on U.S. troops are not the only way, and they are the worst way. My point is that the U.S. government is not going to end the occupation without intensified, sustained pressure from outside the government.

The assault on Fallujah in November 2004 was not "inevitable"; the U.S. government and military command chose to undertake it and are responsible for what they did there.

OCSteve, can you explain where you got "the only way" or "inevitable" out of Nell's comments? It seems to me that you are putting words in her mouth.

For that matter, you talk about her "apparent belief that Sadr and co. are entitled to use force" when she specifically wrote that "non-pacifists" would have to view the Sadrists' violent resistance as legitimate and then went on to talk about her pacifist views.

I said that?

I formally renounce my blog-given right to chase Slarti round in circles trying to get him to explain what the hell he meant by his comment on March 12, 2008 at 09:55 AM if not that he interprets Iraqi resistance to the US occupation as Iraqis killing Iraqis. After all, I do know from experience that no matter how often anyone asks, Slarti won't explain: he'll just complain about being misunderstood.

I should note that my 2:17pm should not be taken as imputing the view that Iraqis should be bombed into oblivion to OCSteve. It was just that OCSteve's comment reminded me of that quote from Aliens (actually, OCSteve's comment also reminded me of, IIRC, Glenn Reynolds' nonsensical comment to the effect of "if people keep calling our troops monsters they'll inevitably act like them"; not that OCSteve's comment was nonsensical).

And we all know that Jesurgislac won't ask; she'll simply assume something asinine, and then act as if you really said that.

Which is eminently reasonable, judging by the protestations.

a lot of those dead and wounded troops you mentioned got that way due to restrictive ROE

I understand your knee jerking, OCSteve, because I feel some restlessness in my own when people make statements that sound awfully like "We'd be winning this thing if only we weren't so damn squeamish about killing civilians."

In an attempt to combine the Bush administration's famous talents for secrecy, intelligence manipulation, and incompetence (with just a soupcon of inefficient use of government funds), the Pentagon has suddenly decided not to make the report available online but instead to send it only by snail mail.

I understand your knee jerking, OCSteve, because I feel some restlessness in my own when people make statements that sound awfully like "We'd be winning this thing if only we weren't so damn squeamish about killing civilians."

My particular take is: that's completely correct if you regard war as a game, or something complete unto itself. If, however, you regard war as the continuation of politics by other means -- which, IMO, is the correct way in the real world -- then that's completely false. It doesn't always work, mind, but it both helps convince others and prevents me from screaming "ARE YOU AN INHUMAN MANIAC?!?!" at the top of my lungs more than absolutely necessary.

[Which isn't to yell at anywhere here, mind, just a general note about the argument.]

Nell: You are putting words in my mouth. Please re-read my post of 12:22.

[email protected]:22
No, it didn't come out wrong. I wasn't making a recommendation but stating a fact.

That was in response to my questioning whether this was what you really meant:
given what “offer resistance to the American presence” actually means in this case I’m assuming that just came out wrong…

Originally in response to this: they opposed such an agreement, preferring that the Sadrist current offer resistance to the American presence

You said: Someone's got to, or U.S. troops will be there for a hundred years.

You also confirmed that we are in agreement that “offer resistance to the American presence” means targeting American troops.

If we agree that “offer resistance to the American presence” means targeting American troops, and given that you said “Someone's got to, or U.S. troops will be there for a hundred years”, and given that I asked “is that really what you meant”, and you confirmed “it didn't come out wrong. I wasn't making a recommendation but stating a fact.” – I’m not sure how I’m misreading you.

If you say I am then I’ll gladly accept that and say I’m happy to be wrong. And to be clear – I was never trying to say it was something you wanted or recommended, just that you seemed to be saying you didn’t see any other way.


KCinDC: can you explain where you got "the only way" or "inevitable" out of Nell's comments?

Someone's got to, or U.S. troops will be there for a hundred years.
...
I wasn't making a recommendation but stating a fact.
...
The form of resistance that the demonstrating Sadrists are recommending is not something I'm cheering on, but something I recognize as inevitable…


For that matter, you talk about her "apparent belief that Sadr and co. are entitled to use force" when she specifically wrote that "non-pacifists" would have to view the Sadrists' violent resistance as legitimate and then went on to talk about her pacifist views.

From this:
The form of resistance that the demonstrating Sadrists are recommending is not something I'm cheering on, but something I recognize as inevitable -- and that non-pacifists must recognize as at least as legitimate as the use of force by U.S. troops.

If I say X is inevitable – and that you (as the opposite of me) must recognize that X is legitimate… it doesn’t make sense unless I believe X is legitimate.

Again, if Nell says I am misreading her I am very happy to accept that.

OCSteve, you seem to be arguing as if you genuinely believed that when Americans attack and occupy another country, there's something wrong with the natives of that country fighting back.

Slarti, I understood perfectly what you meant. Not that it's a big consolation. Still, if probably the dumbest guy in the room can get it, it shouldn't really be a major stretch for everyone else.

But what I hope you understand is that a lot of those dead and wounded troops you mentioned got that way due to restrictive ROE and at least a substantial number of troops and their leaders doing their best to avoid civilian casualties. What you see as inevitable could quickly lead to those ROE being shredded. What will be inevitable is Fallujah Part III, except that the city names will be different.

I don't understand this perspective at all. If our military is unsuccessful in Iraq, why should we assume that its the ROE that's the problem? I know that the ROE are frustrating for soldiers, but getting rid of it doesn't change the fact that they are completely unable to find out, on their own, who and where their enemies are.

To put it another way, consider the firebombing of Japan (before the atomic bombs). We killed millions of Japanese civilians using an ROE that was far, far looser than anything we can conceive of today. Did we succeed in breaking the Japanese people to the point where they would submit? No. We did not. Anything the Army could do short of nuclear strikes will pale in comparison to burning whole cities to the ground, so why should we expect more success now?

Sometimes when you have lots of dead and wounded troops it is because you have crappy ROE. But sometimes it is because you're asking the military to do something it is genuinely incapable of doing. Given the standard metrics on how many soldiers you need to pacify a population the size of Iraq and given the vast opportunity costs from previous Bush admin screwups, I don't think the US Army could have done this job no matter what ROE they employed.

Also, as a side point regarding Falluja: the marines didn't want to go in and destroy the city. They came up with a plan that involved fairly sophisticated counterinsurgency thinking before that sort of thing was widely discussed in Washington. Their plan was rejected by Bush personally: the President wanted us to go in and kill the bad guys NOW whereas the marines' original plan would have involved spending a month or two figuring out who was who by running checkpoints and patrols throughout the city. The marines believed at the time that the more unrestricted ROE required by Bush's plan was a bad idea that would lead to more casualties and a lower probability of accomplishing their objective.

OCSteve,

Also, just to clarify your previous statement: do you really mean to suggest that American forces might adopt more "flexible" ROE likely to kill many more civilians even if there was no evidence that such an ROE would help accomplish their mission? Because that seems to me to come dangerously close to saying that "US forces will kill lots of civilians for revenge if they get frustrated enough" and I don't think that's what you meant to say...

Phil: Slarti, I understood perfectly what you meant.

That's what I thought, too. *shrug* Unless Slarti explains what he meant, we'll never know, and Slarti never does.

If you thought he meant "Iraqis are only ever killed by other Iraqis," which is what you said he meant, I submit that you may not actually have understood what he meant. (And what you mean "we," paleface?) (And what you mean "never?")

What I think he meant was exactly what Nell paraphrased above in her 1:10pm: . . . he interprets the Sadrist demonstrators' call for resistance to the U.S. presence as meaning renewed attacks on Sunnis.

It doesn't mean he thinks Iraqis are only ever killed by Iraqis. It means he thinks that, to the extent Iraqis are killing other Iraqis, it wouldn't be the response he would engage in if, as posed by you, " . . . a foreign army invaded and occupied the US, claiming they were there to "bring democracy", and were still there five years and about 13 380 000 dead Americans later, with no apparent intention of ever leaving."

Or, in other words, he'd concentrate his efforts on the invaders, not his neighbors. That he said it sardonically may have tripped some people up.

I don't mean to speak for you, Slarti, but that's about right, yeah?

Yes. But in my experience, providing a detailed exploration of all the things I didn't say usually results in J discovering some bizarre thing or other I've managed to miss out on explicitly disavowing, and taking that as what I absolutely had to have meant.

So I usually don't bother. Cause, meet effect.

Jes: you seem to be arguing as if you genuinely believed that when Americans attack and occupy another country, there's something wrong with the natives of that country fighting back.

If the Mahdi Army wants to put on uniforms and openly carry arms and not hide among civilians and report to a military commander who takes responsibility for the action of his subordinates – then in theory I don’t think that is “wrong”.


KCinDC: ”We'd be winning this thing if only we weren't so damn squeamish about killing civilians."

Turb: If our military is unsuccessful in Iraq, why should we assume that its the ROE that's the problem? I know that the ROE are frustrating for soldiers, but getting rid of it doesn't change the fact that they are completely unable to find out, on their own, who and where their enemies are.

do you really mean to suggest that American forces might adopt more "flexible" ROE likely to kill many more civilians even if there was no evidence that such an ROE would help accomplish their mission?

I didn’t say anything about winning or success or accomplishing missions. All of my comments here were in the context of Sadr turning loose his “army”. I said “…a lot of those dead and wounded troops you mentioned got that way due to restrictive ROE and at least a substantial number of troops and their leaders doing their best to avoid civilian casualties.”

The part everyone seemed to miss was “a substantial number of troops and their leaders doing their best to avoid civilian casualties”. They are for the most part following not only the letter but the spirit of the ROE. If Sadr decides to turn lose his minions at 10,000 strong in any kind of coordinated and/or large scale attack what do you think will happen? Any “spirit” of ROE is gone. There will still be ROE – but soldiers are going to shoot first a little quicker, and bombs are going to fall a little freer, and heavy artillery might be used were it normally would not be. There might be an assault on Sadr City. The result would be both an official loosening of the ROE and less willingness on the part of individual soldiers and leaders to take extra care not to harm civilians. All of that is in the context of the Mahdi Army targeting our troops in some substantial way.

OCSteve,

Sorry for my confusion, but could you explain what you think might motivate soldiers to abandon the "spirit" of the ROE in the hypothetical that you just described? Are you saying that the higher casualties would motivate soldiers to seek vengeance? Or are you saying that soldiers believe that they're more likely to accomplish their mission if they don't follow the spirit of the ROE? Or are you saying that soldiers will conclude that all Iraqis are animals and that there is no point in keeping to the spirit of the ROE? Or are you saying something else entirely?

I'm just trying to understand the mechanism by which you're claiming soldiers willingness to abide by the ROE's spirit would change given more attacks...

OCSteve: If the Mahdi Army wants to put on uniforms and openly carry arms and not hide among civilians and report to a military commander who takes responsibility for the action of his subordinates – then in theory I don’t think that is “wrong”

So, if a foreign army invades and occupies a country, in theory it's not "wrong" for the natives of the country to fight back so long as they leave their homes and their families - your "hiding among civilians" - put on uniforms so that the occupiers can easily target them, openly carry arms so that the occupiers can easily justify killing them, and - if they can find a military commander the occupation hasn't already arrested/killed - try to form a military unit under their authority.

I'm a pacifist. My country hasn't been invaded since 1542. I don't know what I'd do if my country was invaded. But I do know what neighboring countries did the last time they were invaded and occupied: they put off their uniforms - many never wore a uniform - they did not openly carry arms: they formed themselves into small units which rarely acknowledged a military hierarchy: but they resisted the occupation, and, often, died for it.

But, you say you think they were "wrong". You don't feel it's right for people whose country is invaded to fight back against the invaders unless the invaders can easily pick them out to kill them.

I guess it's easier to think like that if you live in a country which you can be fairly sure will never experience invasion: will always be the invader.

Jes,

OCSteve's points about putting on a uniform, carrying arms, having a responsible commander aren't some random ideas he invented on his own. They're the standard Geneva Conventions. The logic here is that resistance is ONLY permissible under those conditions because this minimizes the civilian death toll. Only by forcing combatants to clearly identify themselves as combatants do you make it reasonable to demand that the occupying forces avoid killing civilians.

As my war crimes law professor put it: "if a french baker kills a Nazi soldier in the dead of night with no uniform and no commander, then according to Geneva, he deserves to hang".

Now, I'm not sure that the underlying reasoning behind the GC still holds today, and that's something we can debate. But in that case, we're not talking about OCSteve's murderous impulses to kill as many Iraqis as possible because of the sheer joy it brings him; rather, we're talking about changing some of the fundamental underpinnings of international law.

Turb: It’s going from general apprehension and background danger to more immediate and likely danger. Sadr reportedly has 10,000. Let’s say it’s really 8,000 and only 3,000 of those can be counted on to show up on time. If those 3,000 could be coordinated, they could in the short term put a real hurtin’ on smaller units, possibly even wiping some entire units out. If it was not coordinated attacks but just say a 500% increase in smaller uncoordinated attacks that is still a big deal and a huge increase in the danger to the guys walking patrol. Someone who right now may go far above and beyond the ROE to avoid any possibility of hurting innocents is less likely to exercise the extra caution if their a** is suddenly in a lot more danger.

On a larger scale, if they are taking a lot of losses procedures will change. For instance if some bad guys are spotted going into a house, rather than clear it they call in an air strike. General ROE could be loosened up. And if 1,000 of them managed to seriously threaten a FOB or the like all hell would break loose.

I shouldn’t have said “shredding the ROE” or whatever it was – that was not what I meant.

But, you say you think they were "wrong". You don't feel it's right for people whose country is invaded to fight back against the invaders unless the invaders can easily pick them out to kill them.

Yeah – that’s what I said.

OCSteve,

Thanks for explaining; I think I understand what you're trying to say now.

Just to be clear though, shifting the balance to less civilian protection will increase civilian deaths and runs contrary to the current counterinsurgency doctrine. It is also likely to make the situation worse, not better as more civilian victims translates into less intelligence for US forces and more resources directed to attacks against them. If you think that American soldiers will deliberately act contrary to their own strategic goals in order to increase their probability of staying alive, then I won't disagree with you, but...To be honest, that's not the kind of thing I'd ordinarily be willing to say because coming from me it sounds like a slag on the professionalism of the US Army.

Yeah – that’s what I said.

Are you trying to be sarcastic? Not really seeing that you have grounds for it.

Look, I am a pacifist, and yet I cannot honestly say what I would do if my pacifism were tried as high as it would be if a foreign army invaded and occupied my country. I really, honestly, don't. (Die pacifically, probably. What a cheery thought.) But your line of thinking - that people who have been invaded and occupied are wrong if they take up arms against the enemy unless they do so in such a way that the enemy can easily identify them - is an argument that the invaders will use to justify their brutal treatment of the occupied. (Did use: have used: will use.)

In another discussion elsewhere on the Internet, someone else said that this argument rests on the idea that your own country is not yours to defend - that war is the business of proper soldiers properly organised into armies, and that people who merely live in a place ought not to mess into soldiers' business by fighting back when invaded. Whereas if you feel that your country is yours, not your government's or your army's, when it's invaded, you will defend it - not wait to be given a uniform and be instructed in how to play by the proper rules.

And that made a lot more sense to me than your position that it's simply wrong for people who have been invaded, living under a foreign military occupation, to fight back against the invaders/occupiers.

Turbulence--You're right about international law, AFAIK, but Jes is also right about reality. This seems to be one area of international law that seems written explicitly to favor the strong over the weak.

Though on the other hand, many of us think the invasion of Iraq was illegal to begin with. I'm not sure about the occupation--I read someone claim once that the UN has made that legal, even if the initial invasion wasn't, which doesn't make much sense to me, but the world often doesn't.

OCSteve, replying to your 07:12, you are correct, for almost all of it, and I was wrong. I'd missed some of what Nell said. The only bit I disagree with is this:

If I say X is inevitable – and that you (as the opposite of me) must recognize that X is legitimate… it doesn’t make sense unless I believe X is legitimate.

Things that are inevitable need not be legitimate, and things that someone who follows a certain set of beliefs must therefore accept as legitimate need not be accepted as legitimate by everyone else. That is, if a pacifist tells you that not being a pacifist implies that you ought to consider violent resistance to invaders legitimate, that does not mean that the pacifist herself considers it legitimate.

Donald,

I'm not sure if I'd agree that it favors the strong over the weak. This stuff was hashed out over a half century ago. Since then a lot has changed. In particular, the availability of small arms has exploded, global trade has risen dramatically, and the barriers to information transmission have been dramatically reduced. The world has changed a lot, even in just the last two decades, so as to make asymmetric warfare much easier to conduct than it was in the past.

I really don't know how you'd update the GC to deal with those changes. My crazy off the cuff plan for improving things would be:

1. eliminate the rules that require uniforms but keep the bits about mandating command structure and following the GC

2. eliminate most of the strictures that outright prevent invading forces from killing civilians or damaging infrastructure

3. create a mechanism by which citizens of the occupied territories can sue the invading nation for treble damages in the courts of other countries; tie it in with the WTO so that Iraqis could sue the US in German courts, and, if they won, Germany would front the Iraqis the resulting cash in exchange for a cut. The German government would recover the case by demanding that the US pay up or face WTO sanctions of an equivalent value.

4. forbid the invading forces from seizing or destroying potential evidence or intimidating witnesses

My thinking here is that we're entering a world where surveillance is much easier and where we're far more accustomed to having transnational adjudication. If the US wants to blow up a water treatment plant, they should have to pay to replace it and they should have to pay for the pain and suffering associated with losing it. On the other hand, maybe the only way to kill insurgents is to destroy the plant, but even if that's so, you should still have to make the victims whole. I'm thinking that in a few years, it should be pretty easy to put cameras everywhere recording continuously which should make court cases go much more smoothly. The US government is free to hire their own German or French attorneys to contest these cases, but that's going to cost money. The point is that you can do anything but you have to pay for it. If we had to pay for the costs we've imposed on the Iraqi people, the war would end immediately.

This might be an awful idea, but it shows some ways of updating the GC to deal with a very different world than the conventions were originally designed for.

Sorry; I've been away in meetings since my last post. I appreciate KCinDC's efforts to interpret my comments, which have been faithful to their intent.

@OCSteve: I can see how you got the idea from my original comment that I meant that increased attacks on U.S. troops are the only way to end the occupation. I can't see how you maintained that idea after my clarification of 12:21, except by ignoring everything I said about resistance to the occupation here in the United States.

Someone's got to [offer resistance to the U.S. presence in Iraq], or we'll be there for 100 years.

That resistance could come in the form of Sadrists and other Iraqis attacking U.S. troops. I'd rather it come in the form of massive, intense nonviolent pressure from U.S. citizens on the U.S. government. I have been devoting enough effort to the latter option not to be accused of wishful-thinking/blather, but not nearly enough to make a difference.

The occupation is illegal and illegitimate; the UN mandate is an after-the-fact figleaf because no one was able or willing to take the place of the U.S. in the chaotic aftermath of the invasion.

I'm not interested in rules of engagement or counterinsurgency doctrine or any of that bullshvt. My doctrine is: If we're doing counterinsurgency, we're somewhere we shouldn't be.

My proposal for preventing brutality and massacres of Iraqis on the part of U.S. troops: Bring 'em home. Now.

My proposal for preventing brutal attacks by Iraqis on U.S. troops: Bring the troops home. Now.

There's no legitimate "mission" for U.S. troops in Iraq.

I don't regard attacks on U.S. troops by Iraqis as legitimate, because I don't regard military intervention or armed resistance as legitimate. (Just as context: This isn't a position I've come to intellectually, in a vacuum. I used to support armed resistance, politically and materially. I saw the process and the results up close. It was what the process did to the participants that convinced me it's a dead end.)

I do regard armed resistance on the part of the occupied to military occupation as inevitable, when there appears to be no political process that will end it. Remember that the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite slate, swept the 2005 elections in part because they ran on a platform of ending the occupation. They had, apparently, no more intention of doing that than the Democrats who were elected in 2006 with similar, though vaguer, promises.

I don't think there's much wrong with the Geneva Conventions. The US is in the peculiar situation of being willing to make its leaders' own declared goals much harder to accomplish than they would be if the US just followed the damn conventions. The drafters of the conventions didn't foresee a single overwhelmingly powerful nation WITH leaders committed to cruelty, violence, and degredation AT THE COST of their own ability to consolidate their rule PLUS massive incompetence at all level AND the complete collapse of normal resistance from within the nation's own political process. I don't regard the failure to foresee that all of those might apply at once as a big problem with the conventions.

The practical problem now is that if the Bush/Cheney approach isn't stopped, rejected, reversed, and punished, then we'll get more of it, from the US and elsewhere.

But, you say you think they were "wrong". You don't feel it's right for people whose country is invaded to fight back against the invaders unless the invaders can easily pick them out to kill them.

OC Steve: Yeah – that’s what I said.

May one assume, then, that during the American Revolution your ancestors either sided openly with the British or migrated to Canada with the other Tories?

A little late, but for people interested in Iraq death toll estimates, the best summary I've seen is here--

Link

Turb: Just to be clear though, shifting the balance to less civilian protection will increase civilian deaths and runs contrary to the current counterinsurgency doctrine. It is also likely to make the situation worse, not better as more civilian victims translates into less intelligence for US forces and more resources directed to attacks against them.

I agree 100%. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a smart thing. It’s just what I feel would happen. And note that is not from personal experience so I really don’t know. It’s mainly from first-hand accounts from a cousin of mine who was in GWI and a lot of reading (read Blackhawk Down with an eye towards ROE as the situation deteriorates).


Jes: And that made a lot more sense to me than your position that it's simply wrong for people who have been invaded, living under a foreign military occupation, to fight back against the invaders/occupiers.

I don’t think you are completely wrong. I just object to you making my position sound that extreme. I’m not expecting all insurgents or whoever to line up nicely to be mowed down by machine-gun fire.

At the same time, I do think you are wrong to expect one side to follow the rule-book (you will certainly note any deviance on our part) while giving a pass to the other side. Yes, “well you shouldn’t have invaded then” has some weight as well. For the record, I can’t say exactly what I would do in that situation either.


KCinDC: That is, if a pacifist tells you that not being a pacifist implies that you ought to consider violent resistance to invaders legitimate, that does not mean that the pacifist herself considers it legitimate.

Fair point. I’ll retract that.


Nell: Consider it my misreading or parsing too closely. Apologies if I offended you. That wasn’t my intent, I was really just trying to clarify your position as I really didn’t think from my initial reading that is what you meant - but that is how it was coming across to me.


dr ngo: Couldn’t tell you what my ancestors were doing during the American Revolution. But no I’m not willing to equate the American Revolution with Iraq if that is your point.


Later all. I won't be able to respond to anything else for a while due to work.

Jes, there was an easy shortcut available for you: Just ask OCSteve what he thought of "Red Dawn." :)

(Just yanking your chain, Steve! Wolverines!)

Wolverines stayed pretty much away from the noncombatant population, IIRC.

Not that anyone was Red-Dawn-serious.

I just object to you making my position sound that extreme.

You don't object to taking that position - that the French Resistance ought to have worn Free French uniforms and carried arms openly and not sneaked around while they were fighting the German occupation of their country - you just object to it being described in terms that make it sound that extreme?

Noted.

I’m not expecting all insurgents or whoever to line up nicely to be mowed down by machine-gun fire.

You are, however, expecting them to make themselves clear targets for machine gun fire - or arrest and torture. That you don't expect them to "line up nicely" is noted.

At the same time, I do think you are wrong to expect one side to follow the rule-book (you will certainly note any deviance on our part) while giving a pass to the other side. Yes, “well you shouldn’t have invaded then” has some weight as well. For the record, I can’t say exactly what I would do in that situation either.

Well, thanks for your honesty.

I think that expecting the native inhabitants of a country to follow a rule book that gives a clear advantage to the foreign invaders/occupiers, is something that the invaders/occupiers cannot possibly expect. The US chose to invade, and some of the people who supported the invasion did so because they believed that the US would bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Which means that the US military in Iraq, if genuinely operating in Iraq for that purpose, is under a far more stringent obligation to follow the Geneva Conventions whether or not the other side does so. (Which the Geneva Conventions require, anyway.)

To put it as straightforwardly as I believe the British military command system puts it to British soldiers serving in Northern Ireland: their job is to keep the peace. If they wound or kill someone, no matter if they did so in justified fear for their lives/their comrades lives, they have failed in their primary job.

This is a tremendously difficult thing to do, requiring incredible discipline and self-control and courage, and I have - even as a pacifist - the strongest possible respect for the soldiers who do succeed in accomplishing this - I've heard personal stories from soldiers coming back from active service in NI who describe who completely terrifying it could be. But more often than not, they do it - and British commanders take failure in this very seriously: a soldier who kills a civilian knows they may be court-martialled for it.

And over and over again, we've seen in Iraq that the US military command did not take that lethal failure seriously at all - did not regard a US soldier killing a civilian as a a court-martial offense against the US's supposed primary mission in Iraq.

I can't blame individual soldiers, or even low-ranking officers, for this failure: I do know something of how incredibly difficult it is to expect soldiers to obey orders that leave them feeling exposed and terrified, and failing to do it when the structure and support from above was simply not there is hardly surprising.

I've taken some time to write this comment, and started out less in charity with you than I was when I finished. Honestly, though you may not believe it, I do not blame individuals serving in the US military for the awful failure in Iraq. It's not individual failure that led to the US defeat: it was the failure from above to make clear that Iraqi lives had to be regarded as exactly as valuable as American lives if the occupation were to succeed - to quote a British soldier commenting on the US occupation back in 2003: "Don't shoot the boys throwing stones."

...you just object to it being described in terms that make it sound that extreme?

Noted.

OCSteve's position is not extreme: his position is precisely the international law that every single nation in the world has agreed to in treaty form. Do you think the UK government's position on this issue is extreme? Because it is exactly the same as OCSteve's.

I'm sorry to keep bringing this up but I'm offering you a chance to depersonalize this discussion and I don't understand why you're refusing it. Instead of talking about how broken OCSteve's personal views are because of his myriad failures as a human being, we could be talking about how broken international law is. It puzzles me that you insist on keeping the focus firmly on OCSteve rather than international law even though his beliefs are no different from the international law.

You are, however, expecting them to make themselves clear targets for machine gun fire - or arrest and torture.

No, he isn't. Soldiers who meet the criteria OCSteve describes are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention which means that they become POWs when captured by occupying forces. I was under the impression that Germany generally avoided torturing POWs.


While I agree that the US leadership has failed in a seemingly infinite number of ways when it comes to Iraq, and I hasten to include much of the military leadership in that assessment, I really don't see how strictly adhering to the GC is a bad thing or something that we should fault anyone for. Does it seem unfair to occupied forces? Yes, at times. But the time to remedy that unfairness is before the war. Iraq and essentially all countries have ratified the GC. None of them have proposed extensions or modifications as I recall. If no country is willing to change it, why shouldn't various countries be forced to abide by it? Does this standard apply to other international treaties as well? Can we now say that nations are permitted to ignore various components of the Convention Against Torture if they decide those components are "not fair"?

The rule of law has some value even when it appears "unfair"...

Soldiers who meet the criteria OCSteve describes are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention which means that they become POWs when captured by occupying forces

Yes indeed. However, Iraqi soldiers, who surrendered in form, have been tortured to death by the US military. And this was regarded by the US military as a trivial offense, judging by the penalties imposed.

Failure to follow the Geneva Conventions by one side does not exempt the other side from following the Conventions. But the US cannot claim to be upholding the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, either with regard to prisoners or war or to civilians.

Failure to follow the Geneva Conventions by one side does not exempt the other side from following the Conventions.

Actually, IIRC, it does.

Putting that aside, I'll certainly stipulate that the US has failed to follow the GC in a number of regards (i.e., black sites in Iraq). And I view the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms as a serious weakness in the GC that needs to be fixed. But the government of Iraq or any of the other nations on Earth do not agree with me; if they did, they could have lobbied for changes to the GC and so far they have not.

You go to war with the conventions that you have, not the ones you wish you had.

No offense taken at all, OCSteve.

It's good to be presented with the chance to lay out my fundamental approach to the issue now and then. This was as appropriate a moment as any, since I haven't written much about Iraq for months, and the five-year mark approaches. (Though depending on how you look at it, we've long since passed the real five-year-mark: In November-December 2001, money and resources appropriated for the Afghan war was diverted to preparing for the invasion of Iraq. In May 2002, the 'Southern Focus' campaign of intensive bombing began. Etc.)

Failure to follow the Geneva Conventions by one side does not exempt the other side from following the Conventions.

To be more specific, if some occupied forces are substantially refusing to follow the GC (i.e., have no command structure, are killing POWs), then the occupying forces have no obligation to treat those particular forces as lawful combatants. That means that when those particular forces are captured, they need not be treated as POWs and they may be shot on sight.

Yes, it is rather harsh, but the point is to only give people protections that they themselves are willing to extend to others.

I think we have a new, novel definition of "colorable argument": leave any whitespace in your argument, and it's fair game for filling in with anything at all, regardless of how silly.

Actually, IIRC, it does.

Actually, no.

The US and Iraq are both signatories to the Geneva Conventions. The exemption you may be thinking of occurs in Article 2 "Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof." - that is, if a country is not a signatory, it can be treated as if it were if it behaves as if it were.

If a country is a signatory: "The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances."

Failure of either Iraq or the US to respect the Conventions does not exempt the other country from its obligations as a "High Contracting Party".

Which, you know, if you think about it, is the only approach that makes sense - just because the US is in breach of the First, Third, and Fourth Geneva Conventions does not mean that US soldiers if captured fall outside the protection of the First and Fourth Conventions, nor does it mean that American civilians fall outside the protection of the Third Convention if the US is under enemy attack. The point of the Conventions is to try to ensure all sides have a little decency in war, not to abandon them because the other side did first.

And if you continue to argue this - from January 2002, the US has been in breach of the Geneva Conventions with regard to Guantanamo Bay. If breach of the Geneva Conventions means losing the protection of the Geneva Conventions, US soldiers haven't been entitled to that protection since the gates of Guantanamo Bay were opened to civilians and PoWs without discrimination.

Jes,

You are incorrect. The exemptions I am thinking about are in article 44, paragraphs 3 and 4.

Jes,

I wasn't aware that Iraqi insurgents were operating POW camps for captured American soldiers. Can you point to any? For that matter, can you point to any cases in the last year where insurgent forces captured surrendering American soldiers rather than killing them on sight?

May I suggest that you go take a class on international law? Reading various bits without a larger legal context can be less illuminating that one might thing.

Also, can I assume then that all nations are free to ignore whichever aspects of the CAT that they feel are "unfair" post ratification or does your new "pick and choose" standard only apply to the GC?

The exemptions I am thinking about are in article 44, paragraphs 3 and 4.

Of which Convention? I can't actually see that Article 44 of any of them is relevant to the discussion. Your argument that countries are only bound by the Geneva Conventions if the country they are fighting adheres to them too really does not exist in the text of any of the Conventions - but if it did, the US decided not to be bound by the Geneva Conventions in 2001, and has therefore - your argument - also quit any claim on their protection.

One: "Art. 44. With the exception of the cases mentioned in the following paragraphs of the present Article, the emblem of the red cross on a white ground and the words " Red Cross" or " Geneva Cross " may not be employed, either in time of peace or in time of war, except to indicate or to protect the medical units and establishments, the personnel and material protected by the present Convention and other Conventions dealing with similar matters. The same shall apply to the emblems mentioned in Article 38, second paragraph, in respect of the countries which use them. The National Red Cross Societies and other societies designated in Article 26 shall have the right to use the distinctive emblem conferring the protection of the Convention only within the framework of the present paragraph.

Furthermore, National Red Cross (Red Crescent, Red Lion and Sun) Societies may, in time of peace, in accordance with their rational legislation, make use of the name and emblem of the Red Cross for their other activities which are in conformity with the principles laid down by the International Red Cross Conferences. When those activities are carried out in time of war, the conditions for the use of the emblem shall be such that it cannot be considered as conferring the protection of the Convention; the emblem shall be comparatively small in size and may not be placed on armlets or on the roofs of buildings.

The international Red Cross organizations and their duly authorized personnel shall be permitted to make use, at all times, of the emblem of the red cross on a white ground.

As an exceptional measure, in conformity with national legislation and with the express permission of one of the National Red Cross (Red Crescent, Red Lion and Sun) Societies, the emblem of the Convention may be employed in time of peace to identify vehicles used as ambulances and to mark the position of aid stations exclusively assigned to the purpose of giving free treatment to the wounded or sick."

Two; "Art 44. The distinguishing signs referred to in Article 43 can only be used, whether in time of peace or war, for indicating or protecting the ships therein mentioned, except as may be provided in any other international Convention or by agreement between all the Parties to the conflict concerned."

Three: "Art 44. Officers and prisoners of equivalent status shall be treated with the regard due to their rank and age.

In order to ensure service in officers' camps, other ranks of the same armed forces who, as far as possible, speak the same language, shall be assigned in sufficient numbers, account being taken of the rank of officers and prisoners of equivalent status. Such orderlies shall not be required to perform any other work.

Supervision of the mess by the officers themselves shall be facilitated in every way."

Four: "Art. 44. In applying the measures of control mentioned in the present Convention, the Detaining Power shall not treat as enemy aliens exclusively on the basis of their nationality nationality ' de jure ' of an enemy State, refugees who do not, in fact, enjoy the protection of any government."

Of which Convention? I can't actually see that Article 44 of any of them is relevant to the discussion.

My apologies; I made a careless mistake and cited the wrong section. Please see article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, specifically, sections A.2 and A.6. It specifies that the privilege of POW status is only afforded to lawful combatants who are largely in compliance with the GC and not any random person who takes up arms against the occupying power in complete defiance of the GC.

Your argument that countries are only bound by the Geneva Conventions if the country they are fighting adheres to them too really does not exist in the text of any of the Conventions - but if it did, the US decided not to be bound by the Geneva Conventions in 2001, and has therefore - your argument - also quit any claim on their protection.

Jes, can you please explain to me how someone could read my 11:44 comment and come to the conclusion that I claimed that an entire country is no longer bound by the GC, at all, if even one soldier opposing it doesn't stick to the GC in all its particulars?

To reiterate: that's not my argument. My argument is that if one particular group of belligerents consistently refuses to follow the GC, then the occupying power is not required to treat them as POWs. That's it. My argument is much narrower in scope than what you claim it is.

POW status matters because while belligerence on the part of lawful combatants cannot be punished (fighting a war is not a crime), belligerence on the part of a civilian (i.e., anyone who is not a lawful combatant as defined by GC3 article 4.A.2 or 4.A.6) is a crime and is often punished with the death penalty.

Wolverines stayed pretty much away from the noncombatant population, IIRC.

Yeah, but they also didn't wear uniforms, have a command structure, etc. -- all the things OCSteve has been half-insisting are necessary for legitimate resistance. They also executed an enemy POW.

OCSteve: Couldn’t tell you what my ancestors were doing during the American Revolution. But no I’m not willing to equate the American Revolution with Iraq if that is your point.

So when they fired the "shot heard round the world" the "embattled farmers" at Concord Bridge were wearing proper military uniform, as you demand?

Funny that I never read that before.

dr. ngo,

Given that OCSteve is describing the Geneva Conventions which did not exist at the time of the American Revolution, I'm not sure what your point is. I thought that having Americans, especially Americans from the military, spontaneously say that they believe an appropriate universal standard should be international law would be an unalloyed good thing, yet it seems to provoke hostility. This confuses me greatly...

Turbulence, I'm greatly confused by your stance. As you describe the Geneva Conventions, they sound monstrous and that's probably why there's a certain hostility. Your 6:46 post, unless I misunderstand, seems to say that guerillas caught out of uniform can be shot. Which I think barbaric, and if that's international law, then international law is unjust and no one in an occupied country should feel under any moral obligation to pay that portion of it any respect. What about soldiers in an invading army that has no right to be there? Since they are there in violation of international law, does that mean that captured soldiers can be shot? If not, why not?

Also, if the US has consistently shown it is willing to flout the Geneva Convention, then it seems to follow from what you say that they can be shot after capture.

To be blunt, if any of the above is international law, then the law is an ass. We should pay attention to those parts that make moral sense--laws against torture, execution, unjust invasions, etc, but laws that favor illegal uniformed invaders over civilians defending their homes are an obscenity.

None of which, btw, is meant as a defense of the Iraqi insurgents, many of whom (though maybe not all) target civilians. That should be outlawed.

Turbulence, I'm greatly confused by your stance. As you describe the Geneva Conventions, they sound monstrous and that's probably why there's a certain hostility. Your 6:46 post, unless I misunderstand, seems to say that guerillas caught out of uniform can be shot.

I tried to phrase my explanation in terms of substantiative breaches of the GC. Traditionally, if you were basically compliant, you'd be given POW protection. Basically compliant means doing the really important stuff, like not marauding through the countryside raping every woman you could find and not killing prisoners and not deceptively using the Red Cross emblem in order to kill people. Whether you had an absolutely strict command hierarchy modeled on the US Army's matters a lot less than whether or not you have some plausible mechanisms for detecting when your people commit war crimes (such as rape or killing prisoners or civilians) and responding appropriately. Whether or not you wear actual uniforms all the time matters a lot less than whether or not you do something, anything, to visually distinguish yourself from the civilian population while you're actively engaged in combat: an insignia or even just carrying a weapon may be enough, depending on context. You certainly can't be punished for following the rules but not wearing a uniform while you sleep. And note that there are special rules for cases where countries are invaded suddenly and the local population spontaneously organizes to resist the invading force.

For better or worse, these regulations are traditionally expected to be interpreted with a fair bit of flexibility; the GCs themselves bias invading parties towards treating all belligerents like lawful combatants entitled to POW protection until they've proved otherwise in some sort of competent tribunal (which typically excludes kangaroo courts).

There are large parts of this with which I personally do not care for, but, most of the GC makes sense in context. For example, if you get rid of the requirement for responsible commanders, then you are permitting one side to engage in all manner of barbarity while still claiming the protections of the GC. In many ways, I think these are treaties out of a different time. During some of the Balkans festivities, the ICRC ran television advertisements that said little more than "a soldier does not rape. a soldier does not kill prisoners. a soldier does not kill civilians"; in a very real way, they were trying to transmit the basis of the GC to the belligerent population.

Finally, I should note that I was hasty in claiming that such an attacker could be shot on site. Anyone who attacks an invading military force can be shot on site if they refuse to surrender and remain able bodied. If the attackers are captured and are not eligible for POW status, then they will face some sort of tribunal where evidence will be presented. Often, if they're convicted, they'll be sentenced to death. This isn't so different from how things work during peace time: if you attack a US Army base, the Army will try to kill you. If you are captured during the attack, you will be tried and in some cases sentenced to death. The only difference in most invasions is that the military does the judicial work on its own because it is the only effective governing power. Now, getting sentenced to death sounds awful, but on the other hand, you were attacking a military installation, attempting to kill soldiers and risking your life in the process; a death sentence following a court martial doesn't seem so bizarre in that context.


Which I think barbaric, and if that's international law, then international law is unjust and no one in an occupied country should feel under any moral obligation to pay that portion of it any respect. What about soldiers in an invading army that has no right to be there? Since they are there in violation of international law, does that mean that captured soldiers can be shot? If not, why not?

I agree that there are many injustices in international law. I'm also not entirely convinced that the entire project of making war safer for civilians and combatants alike leads to better outcomes than the alternatives. And the lack of third party arbitration, especially for the decision to invade in the first place (which is outside the scope of the GC and more properly dealt with in terms of the UN Charter and Security Council), strikes me as a huge problem. But at the end of the day, in any world where there are such disparities between nations in terms of economic and military power, I suspect that under any system of international governance, the rich and powerful will get their way. Just like the rich and powerful tend to get their way in our own domestic courts.

None of which, btw, is meant as a defense of the Iraqi insurgents, many of whom (though maybe not all) target civilians. That should be outlawed.

But how do you do that? The GC are one attempt that have the benefit of actually being the law. Under the GC, the invading power has the authority and responsibility to hunt down and deal with gangs of thugs that are killing and raping civilians. What new law do you propose that would have worked better in Iraq? I contend that the problem here is not with the law per se but with the lack of any plausible enforcement mechanism.

Turbulence: Jes, can you please explain to me how someone could read my 11:44 comment and come to the conclusion that I claimed that an entire country is no longer bound by the GC, at all, if even one soldier opposing it doesn't stick to the GC in all its particulars?

But we aren't speaking of individual soldiers when we talk of the US breach of the Geneva Conventions: we are talking about the Bush administration's actions, and the top-down support of this breach.

Please see article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, specifically, sections A.2 and A.6. It specifies that the privilege of POW status is only afforded to lawful combatants who are largely in compliance with the GC and not any random person who takes up arms against the occupying power in complete defiance of the GC.

Ah. I used to see these sections of Three cited in isolation all the time when Americans were defending US mistreatment of PoWs in Guantanamo Bay, so I should really have figured out that "44" meant "4" in this context. Not very bright of me.

You need to read Article 4 in context, and particularly, you need to read Article 5, which specifies: "The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.
Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal. "

Article 4 refers to captured individuals who "having oommitted a belligerent act" have been taken prisoner. It applies to all individuals who are nationals of a country which is signatory to the Geneva Convention. Individuals who are determined, by means of a competent tribunal, to not fall into any of the categories outlined in Article 4, are civilians who enjoy the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention - the "belligerent act" may then be dealt with as a crime committed by a civilian against a foreign national.

But the US has never mustered any "competent tribunals " to determine the status of prisoners taken "having committed a belligerent act" - and indeed many prisoners are taken by the US though they have never committed any belligerent act, or at least can't been shown to have done so. Which means that all the Iraqi prisoners - or Afghan prisoners, to go back to the US's original breach of the Geneva Conventions - are in fact legally still under the protection of Article 4.

If the attackers are captured and are not eligible for POW status, then they will face some sort of tribunal where evidence will be presented.

You have that wrong: if the attackers are captured, they have to face a competent tribunal where evidence must be presented that they are not eligible for PoW status. If they are not so eligible, they fall under the protection of the Fourth Convention, and can't be taken before a tribunal - they're civilians who are entitled to a fair trial for the crime the US claims they committed.

I'm also not entirely convinced that the entire project of making war safer for civilians and combatants alike leads to better outcomes than the alternatives.

British prisoners were better off in German PoW camps during WWII than any prisoner is in Guantanamo Bay. Russian prisoners were vilely mistreated by the Germans because the USSR did not follow the Geneva Conventions - it wasn't a signatory to them till after WWII. You don't have to look back very far to look for the "alternatives" to abiding by and enforcing the Geneva Conventions. They're not pretty.

if the attackers are captured, they have to face a competent tribunal where evidence must be presented that they are not eligible for PoW status.

Well, they don't have to. The Detaining Power could just decide that they are PoWs. But to remove the protection of Art 4, you need to muster a competent tribunal and present evidence.

I used to think the reason the US has avoided doing this, and instead invented the term "unlawful combatant", is because actually going by the Geneva Conventions would have meant having to decide a set of guidelines for the competent tribunals - which would have meant having to explicitly say that they think if the US invades your country, the US believes you're not legally allowed to fight back. I mean, we're going back to 2002, when I still thought that would embarrass the Bush administration.

Now I think that the main reason the Bush administration did it was because they didn't care and figured they would get away with it anyway, and tribunals would have been a lot of trouble and expense and why bother?

I sort of feel like I should have warned Turbulence. I think this is the third or fourth time I've seen you go through this particular merry-go-round Jes.

Im glad you are willing to do it but it worries me that I suspect most people in the US labor under the same burden of missinformation that Turb has. I know I've seen republicans assert this idea many many times.

Jes,

I agree with you, I think. The GC require that US forces either assume a captured belligerent is a POW OR determine that they are not during a competent tribunal. I thought I explained this in my explanation above and since Jes even cited part of my explanation of the tribunal in her last comment, I thought it would be widely understood.

Now, the US has clearly failed in a major way to comply with the GC regarding prisoners at black sites, prisoners at Gitmo, and secret prisoners in general. I was under the impression however, that the US Army was somewhat better at this, i.e., that most of the belligerents captured by the US Army were given some sort of tribunal before being tossed off to a civilian justice system. Is it your contention that that is not true? If so, could you provide cites? I thought that while the ICRC was extremely unhappy about secret prisoners being "off books" (which I consider to be a grave infraction of the GC), they were also monitoring other captured belligerents who were being treated roughly in the scope of the GC. If the US were just wholesale refusing to give anyone captured in Iraq/Afghanistan a tribunal hearing to determine POW status, I would expect the ICRC to complain much more loudly. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I believe that the US government is a large organization with often little coordination between various components and the Army's behavior is generally not identical to the CIA's.


Frank: I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't recall ever discussing this with Jes before, but I may have. I also don't understand what missinformation you claim I'm laboring under. Could you explain?

That makes a bit more sense, Turbulence, as you explain it further. Jes's points also make sense to me, however.

I wasn't calling for new international law--I was only saying that as I understood your earlier explanation, it sounded as if some portions of international law are immoral. Since my knowledge of the subject is extremely rudimentary, I don't know if that's the case.

Donald,

I completely agree. Some portions are immoral. Some portions of domestic law are immoral. I'm not really sure about what to do about that though...I'd much prefer a robust international legal regime with serious enforcement powers. Strangely, we seem to be getting near that for economic issues with the WTO and friends but not so much for war crimes.

Now I think that the main reason the Bush administration did it was because they didn't care and figured they would get away with it anyway, and tribunals would have been a lot of trouble and expense and why bother?

I don't think this is true in general. I believe that field-tribunals held by the Army can be very little bother indeed; military justice systems are rather, um, streamlined, and proving that someone is not complying with the GC isn't that hard: if they're found planting an IED but they deny being part of a military organization, then they're clearly not POWs and they should get thrown into the civilian justice system. My point is, in many cases, those field tribunals can be done very quickly, and the Army has experience doing so in the past.


British prisoners were better off in German PoW camps during WWII than any prisoner is in Guantanamo Bay. Russian prisoners were vilely mistreated by the Germans because the USSR did not follow the Geneva Conventions - it wasn't a signatory to them till after WWII. You don't have to look back very far to look for the "alternatives" to abiding by and enforcing the Geneva Conventions. They're not pretty.

I'm very much aware of all that. Sometimes I get the sense that you don't appreciate that I share your views wrt Gitmo and blatant lawlessness of the US government in general.

The point about alternatives is that by putting a shiny gloss on war, we might be encouraging its use, especially given the nature of that shiny gloss. The GC give western nations a fig leaf to pretend that the horrors of war are limited, but perhaps without the fig leaf, fewer nations would be willing to accept war as often. Again, I'm not advocating this position, but I have seen it made by better writers than I and I think it is a legitimate point to discuss. Obviously, the GC makes life easier for POWs, but the world consists of more than POWs and we should be comparing total utility rather than just asking: how do we make POW lives as good as possible.

I thought that having Americans, especially Americans from the military, spontaneously say that they believe an appropriate universal standard should be international law would be an unalloyed good thing, yet it seems to provoke hostility. This confuses me greatly...

I'm not sure "hostility" is the right word, but when Americans hear talk about how it's unacceptable for people to be fighting against an invading army without uniforms, they naturally are reminded of what they learned in grade school about the redcoats marching in formation and being shocked at the unsportsmanlike behavior of the ununiformed colonial rabble hiding in the bushes.

I thought I explained this in my explanation above and since Jes even cited part of my explanation of the tribunal in her last comment, I thought it would be widely understood.

Nope. You asserted that prisoners can be determined to be not eligible for PoW status without a tribunal. That's your misunderstanding: is it clearer now?

I was under the impression however, that the US Army was somewhat better at this, i.e., that most of the belligerents captured by the US Army were given some sort of tribunal before being tossed off to a civilian justice system.

You are mistaken. People held captive by the US military are in many cases - it has eventually been established - not even belligerents. Tribunals have indeed taken place, but without the prisoner - or his defense lawyer - being allowed to know what evidence the prosecution and the judges are considering, or who the accusers are. Prisoners who ought long ago to have been set free, against whom no legal case can be made either that they are PoWs or that they are civilian criminals, whom even the US military acknowledges are not "unlawful combatants", are still in cages in Guantanamo Bay.

The US army, at present, makes no pretence of following the Geneva Conventions with regard to PoWs: it is asserted by the Bush administration that the US military does not need to do so, since once a person has been accused of being an "unlawful combatant", that is their status, whether they were handed over to the US for a direct cash bounty in Afghanistan, surrendered in exchange for the safety of their kidnapped sons in Iraq, or were taken from Bosnia by the CIA.

This is "somewhat better" only if you compare it to the behavior of the Northern Alliance towards many of the prisoners taken by the Northern Alliance/the US military in Afghanistan, who were massacred, with the apparent connivance - or at least acquiscience - of the US military.

Nope. You asserted that prisoners can be determined to be not eligible for PoW status without a tribunal. That's your misunderstanding: is it clearer now?

Um, no. I never said that. I said "If the attackers are captured and are not eligible for POW status, then they will face some sort of tribunal where evidence will be presented", however, I had earlier explained that:

the GCs themselves bias invading parties towards treating all belligerents like lawful combatants entitled to POW protection until they've proved otherwise in some sort of competent tribunal.

Did you not read that sentence? It came before your reply. Do you disagree with it? Are you intentionally misreading and misrepresenting my words so you'll have someone to argue with?

Turbulence: The point about alternatives is that by putting a shiny gloss on war, we might be encouraging its use, especially given the nature of that shiny gloss.

I think that what puts a shiny gloss on war is having no recent direct experience of it - which is true for the vast majority of people born in the US since 1865. Most recent American experience of war is of the video game that appears on TV, where the blood and guts and excrement don't show. Fewer than 4000 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the war began: for me, although I know several Americans and one British soldier who have served in Iraq, Andy Olmsted's death was the first time that one of the 1.2 million people who had been killed since 2003 was someone I knew, even online.

But I grew up in a city with war memorials all over it - indeed, there is hardly a village in the UK that is missing a stone and the legend "Their name liveth forevermore". My grandfathers both served - one in WWI, one in WWII. What always astonishes me about US war memorials for either of the world wars is how small they are, how short the list of names, how rare they are. The same number of Americans were killed in 15 years in Vietnam as were killed in 18 months of the Blitz in the UK. I grew up at a time the IRA were fighting a terrorist war in England and Northern Ireland. I don't think it's "western nations" that think the horrors of war are limited: I think it's specifically the US, and it's not the Geneva Conventions that figleaf it, but the fact that the US can start wars in other countries where the local civilians will suffer for it, with little or no harm inflicted on American civilians, and a low casualty rate (compared to their opponents) for the US military.

the GCs themselves bias invading parties towards treating all belligerents like lawful combatants entitled to POW protection until they've proved otherwise in some sort of competent tribunal.

No, actually, I did miss that sentence, which puts a different color on the sentence I cited. I apologize. (Blame Friday afternoon weariness: I think I should quit arguing and take another weekend break from worrying about People Being Wrong On the Internet.)

Sorry Jes,

I should not have accused you of misreading. Its pretty easy to see how any of us could miss a sentence in a long thread like this. My apologies for not being clearer as well.

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