July 06, 2005

War Crime Reporting

In an otherwise entirely admirable article, Christopher Hitchens misses a stitch:

I call your attention to a report in the London Independent from Patrick Cockburn, published on Dec. 1, 2004. I should say that Cockburn is an old friend of mine, an extremely brave veteran of Iraqi reportage for three decades, and no admirer—to say the very least—of the war or the occupation. He reprinted a letter from Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, to his supreme leader. It is dated five days before the fall of Baghdad. In the letter, Sabri expresses concern that world opinion is receiving an impression of too much fraternization between Iraqis and American forces. A cure for this, he argues, is "to target their vehicle checkpoints with suicide operations by civilian vehicles in order to make the savage Americans realize that their contact with Iraqi civilians is as dangerous as facing them on the battlefield."

The missed stitch in talking about Sabri's letter is that the tactic described is a war crime. It's as damning a piece of evidence as anything that ever came out of the Nazi archives. The consequence of such crimes are morally and legally assigned to the side that intentionally mingles with civilians, that fights without uniform, and that does its best to ensure that civilians do not have the sanctuary that the rules of land warfare were developed to create.

It bears repeating, time after time after time, that these actions are war crimes. It also bears repeating that the customary penalty for these sorts of crimes is death. The perpetrators of these crimes are equivalent to the worst of mass murderers.

It is a propaganda action of the enemy to make us forget that these are war crimes. It is psychological war against the population of Iraq and the populations of the coalition forces fighting for Iraq to take on the guilt for these civilian deaths. It is the plain duty of the media to give context to these reports and ensure that we do not forget the truth. The laws of war that create sanctuary for civilians by requiring soldiers to wear uniforms are there to save civilian lives. When those laws of civilian sanctuary are violated, the side that violates them bears the blame for subsequent civilian deaths. Force protection measures that lead to extra civilian lives lost due to war crime actions of our enemy are the fault of the enemy.

Posted by TMLutas at July 6, 2005 01:47 AM