Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Peters on taking prisoners

Ralph Peters writes that it's time for the US to stop taking prisoners in the War on Terror. While it may sound brutal at first, Peters's ideas are more within the practice of warfare than the conditions handed down recently by the Supreme Court:

The oft-cited, seldom-read Geneva and Hague Conventions define legal combatants as those who visibly identify themselves by wearing uniforms or distinguishing insignia (the latter provision covers honorable partisans - but no badges or armbands, no protection). Those who wear civilian clothes to ambush soldiers or collect intelligence are assassins and spies - beyond the pale of law.

Traditionally, those who masquerade as civilians in order to kill legal combatants have been executed promptly, without trial. Severity, not sloppy leftist pandering, kept warfare within some decent bounds at least part of the time. But we have reached a point at which the rules apply only to us, while our enemies are permitted unrestricted freedom.

The present situation encourages our enemies to behave wantonly, while crippling our attempts to deal with terror.

Peters's proposal will surely shock many, but it is not the raving of a madman. As he points out, at no time in history have those who dress as civilians to fight a war received a special status. Those who do not distinguish themselves as combatants often feel the incentive to hide and fight behind innocent civilians. It doesn't seem reasonable to offer them any special status.*

(I don't what I get when I link to the NY Post. If you only get a partial article with the link above, try this one. Once on the RCP page, scroll down to the Peters's article in the Morning edition.)

*I botched this sentence in the original post. I wrote "unreasonable," but I can't figure out how to do a strikeover in Blogspot. I also left out "know" in my explanation at the bottom of the original. My editor is officially "on double secret probation, whatever that is."


Blogger jimcaserta said...

Geneva Convention

"A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. "

Category 1 makes no mention of uniforms, and a fighter can be in category 1 and does not need to be in category 2 to be considered a POW.

Article 3 outlines how all prisoners should be detained, even those without POW status, and is now what the US will now follow.

There is a good reason that we follow the geneva conventions, but I'll let you ask John McCain why.

Blogger Glenn said...

Jim, thanks for commenting.

I want to start by saying I don't advocate the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Our country has always treated POWs well and usually with enemies who show no reciprocity in the way they've treated American POWs. I think this holds true in our current war.

Part D that you cite I think disqualifies terrorists and insurgents who fight like terroists from Geneva protections at least on the battlefield. They do not conduct their operations within the customs of war. If possible before the shooting starts, terrorists who wish to lay down their arms should be taken prisoner. However, once the deal is on, they deserve no quarter. Of course we should do everything possible to make sure that they're not fighting amongst women and children and the military does have rules of combat addressing these types of situations.

Blogger Joe Guarino said...

Jim, my reading of the above is that the Geneva Convention protections should not apply to the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq. Characterizing them as part of the "armed forces" of a party to the conflict is a generous application of the term "armed forces".

Glenn, the problem has always been the asymmetric nature of the techniques of terrorism. Why should they be afforded the protections of the Geneva Convention when they refuse to abide by the international standards of conducting warfare?

I have not studies in detail the basis for the Supreme Court decision last week (I was away on vacation), but it seemed suspect to me.

Blogger Glenn said...

I botched a key sentence in the original post. My editor has been chewed out. It's corrected now. I think it's very unreasonable to afford specical Geneva status to terrorists.

Blogger jimcaserta said...

Terrorists don't get POW protection. One of the main elements of POW protection is repatriation after the end of hostilities, and we are not going to repatriate terrorists. That doesn't mean we shouldn't abide by article 3 preventing torture or degrading treatment, and not all of the prisoners at gitmo could be described as terrorists.

Terrorists should be treated similar to war criminals. We gave rights and trials to nazi criminals who killed millions of civilians. We gave McVeigh normal criminal rights. The notion that we don't have to give them any rights and that we can humiliate and degrade prisoners is wrong. People in the military knew it was wrong, but somewhere higher up that judgement was ignored.

The spirit of the geneva convention is to apply more rights at first and then take rights away as a prisoner's status is determined. We did the opposite - granted 0 rights and needed to have the SC say that was wrong.

There are other points but one is that we don't gain anything by mistreating prisoners or by refusing them some small measure of due process - at least knowing why they are being detained. When we have ambiguious statements from our leaders "waterboarding is ok," troops & cia don't have a clear idea what is or is not ok, and bad stuff happens. Leadership makes a difference.

Blogger Joe Guarino said...

Again, we are speaking of the asymmetric nature of terrorism. The techniques the terrorists use give them asymmetric advantages, so if our subscribing to the Geneva Convention does not require that we treat them according to these standards, then we should not feel compelled to do so.

Getting information from these folks can be very important. If we are able to "squeeze" them a bit more than true prisoners of war to acquire this information, I do not think we should be constrained from doing so.

Your points, Jim, regarding the manner in which they should be treated are understandable, and I agree on some level. But every Geneva Convention protection need not be extended. There is a national interest in overcoming the asymmetric nature of the techniques of terrorism.

Blogger PotatoStew said...


By "squeeze" do you mean "torture"?

Blogger jimcaserta said...

Joe, I would suggest actually reading the first couple articles of the convention. Article 3 represents how all parties taking "no active part in hostilities" and represents the minimum that should be extended to all detainees.

Terrorism and asymmetric warfare are not new, and from the beginning (Egyptians, Greeks, Romans) wars were generally wars of occupation. Almost every country has broken the spirit of the GC at some time - France in Algeria, British in Northern Ireland. The question I ask is, "is America different?"

Blogger Joe Guarino said...

Anthony, by "squeeze" I did not mean physical torture. But there are other things that probably can be done to "squeeze" a detainee to get important information-- and in the case of terrorism, getting this type of information is important.

Jim, I am not sure how different we want to be with respect to terrorism detainees. The premise that they need to be afforded all the considerations extended to detainees from legitimate nations and armies seems a stretch to me. They are using horribly unfair tactics to harm us.

Blogger Glenn said...

I appreciate the good discussion.

I don't think allowing terrorist detainees all the provisions of the Geneva Convention is necessary. Overall, we have always treated those we capture on the battlefield humanely. I don't think denial of some of the legalistic aspects of Geneva push Gitmo toward the conditions of the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.

As far as squeezing information from the captured is concerned, once again I think we're smart to do this. Through all wars, we have grabbed prisoners and squeezed information out of them. For those who have seen "Band of Brothers," one of the episodes dealt with a mission during the war's waning days where the specific purpose was to nab German prisoners for the sake of intel. Sometimes it is necessary to squeeze one prisoner in order to save other lives.


Post a Comment

<< Home