January 25, 2002



Killer editorial in the Washington Post today on the Guantanamo situation. It acknowledges that there has been no mistreatment to date, but correctly states this whole situation is more about displaying respect for the full body of laws and conventions, not just the pleasing bits, even when Americans are involved. It clearly lays out the just course: presumptive treatment of all detainees as POWs, until a court or military tribunal actually charges them with a crime (after which, obviously, they would be treated as presumptive war criminals). The editorial also astutely notices that this entire fracas could have been avoided if Rumsfeld wasn't such a cavaliering twit sometimes.

By comparison, Charles Krauthammer is having trouble seeing through his own assumptions. He concedes that "low-level Taliban" should be treated as PoWs, even if everyone else is jailed until they rot. What he doesn't explore is how the heck that distinction is going to be made, except through some kind of judicial determination. Belief that justice comes from the laws, and not the sovereign authority's unchallenged fiat, demands one. Krauthammer says we need to interrogate them... would it be so hard to charge/indict them (and by doing so strip them of their POW rights in a just and legal manner) first?

Meanwhile, Instapundit misses the point once more, comparing Guantanamo favourably with the appalling treatment of American prisoners during the Revolution. But this is exactly backwards. The British committed atrocities against the fathers of the American country because they believed that the colonial rebels, because they "used guerrilla tactics" and "had no uniforms" and fought for an "unrecognized" government, were undeserving of the rights they would have accorded, say, French soldiers they captured. The Geneva Conventions were specifically drafted with that kind of war in mind... to say that if you take up arms in defense of your homes, even if you're not a professional soldier, even if you don't have a uniform, so long as you behave with a modicum of , non-murderous) restraint, they would cover you. Like Norwich Union, there's no medical exam, and no salesperson will visit... you're still covered. Because this gets in the way of their own operations, some Americans (and Canadians; see examples below) are now attacking the Conventions, and the Red Cross, and making all the same excuses the British did once. And they just can't see the irony.

Posted by BruceR at 08:49 PM



Instapundit admits he's taken with a paragraph in a writeup by Rich Lowry supporting discarding the Geneva Conventions yesterday. It's unfortunate the paragraph makes no sense whatsoever.

...given the Europeans' evident contempt for one of the purposes of the Geneva Convention: to deter un-uniformed soldiers from hiding among the civilian population

That's simply not true. The Geneva Conventions' sole purpose is to protect the victims of war: wounded and prisoners, and those who care for them.

In other words, the Geneva Convention seeks to protect innocent civilians by keeping soldiers in uniform

No, it doesn't. Members of an army of a nation who are subject to military discipline are implicitly allowed to wear whatever they want. The convention also explicitly protects anyone who spontaneously takes up arms in defense of their homes, uniform or not. Americans fond of their own 2nd Amendment likely wouldn't want it any other way...

and by defining those combatants who don't wear uniforms as being outside the rules of warfare and undeserving of the privileges afforded to legitimate prisoners of war.

The conventions say nothing of the sort. Yes, the conventions implicitly exclude spies and saboteurs who are hiding among the civilian population. They could not, for instance, ever apply to Al Qaeda members operating in the United States, or anywhere outside the Taliban's armed forces in Afghanistan, for that matter, or who actively supported those operations in Afghanistan. Straight Al Qaeda members, under this interpretation, are out, but the Taliban units fighting the Northern Alliance are still in.

It is strange that they [Europeans] should now turn around and be willing to overlook the chief cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan: al Qaeda and Taliban troops who not only didn't wear uniforms, but actively hide [sic] among civilians.

(NRO is bound neither by the rules of war, nor the laws of grammar, apparently.) So, by extension, if the Taliban had clothed its soldiers in full dress and gold braid, then those 1,000-1,300 civilian casualties wouldn't have happened? That's almost Rall-like in its fatuousness. It's already been pretty much established the chief cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was using satellite-guided JDAMs instead of more precise munitions. Not to mention I seem to remember a fair number of U.S Special Forces types not wearing service dress in Afghanistan, either... are they then also undeserving of any privileges?

One might even think that the Europeans would be especially eager to define al Qaeda and the Taliban as outside the rules of civilized combat, given (again) the Europeans' understandable concern with protecting civilian populations from the depredations of war.

As opposed to the Germans or Japanese in WW2, say... who were granted Conventions protection.

But that, of course, would require following a consistent moral principle rather than simply a knee-jerk anti-Americanism: i.e., the Americans are wrong when they bomb terrorists who are hiding among civilians, and wrong when they try to follow rules to discourage terrorists from hiding among civilians.

Actually, the "Europeans" (What, the whole continent? Name your accuser, man.) are saying the Americans are wrong because they're explicitly rejecting those rules, not following them, which was sort of Lowry's whole point up until now. And the rules, as said above, have nothing to do with discouraging soldiers from hiding among civilians anyway.

Because al Qaeda and the Taliban are, in essence, armed, criminal gangs, and nothing more.

The nub of Lowry's objection. I'll say it again. The conventions explicitly protect anyone, in a uniform or not, who rises up in defense of their homeland. Whatever else you say about the average Taliban soldier, it's fair to say that is what they were trying to do. The U.S. has some Taliban members under its power. The U.S. has previously promised the world it will conform to certain standards in dealing with its military prisoners. The path of the "consistent moral principle" here has been clear since the outset...

Posted by BruceR at 09:01 AM