Looking carefully at that which is unseen.

Thinking about: Justice, and the rules of war

Presuming that an activity that is nothing more than organized mass murder can have “rules,” a recent article leads to the inevitable questions needed to be asked by that minority who actually try and see that which is unseen:

If it is a “war” on terrorism, aren’t prisoners in that war, as in any war, entitled to certain treatment based on various international accords and conventions; and if it’s not war, but rather crime, aren’t there rules governing things like the justice system, such that killing prisoners out of hand is frowned upon? Isn’t the murder of a prisoner – or prisoners – a crime in itself?

Does the road to Amblève still lead to Malmedy?


4 responses to “Thinking about: Justice, and the rules of war

  1. dred June 25, 2011 at 5:06 am

    I believe that in order to be entitled to protection by the Geneva convention, you need to follow certain rules – uniforms, command structure, don’t use hospitals or churches as fighting or observation positions, and a bunch of other rules.

    Terrorists do not do any of those things. Therefore they can be treated like pirates; we could hang them from the nearest yardarm. Any treatment better than that is just us being generous, and not required from us.

    Sure, this makes us feel all smug and superior, and proud of how much more evolved we are than those barbarous, nasty, evil terrorists, but it must be very confusing to them – they don’t understand how superior we are, and wind up concluding that we are either scared, or stupid. Neither mistaken conclusion leads to a result that is good for us.

    The United States has never faced an enemy that followed the so-called “Laws of War” – Not the Kaiser, not Hitler or Tojo, nor the commies of any stripe. In particular, the rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war has been treated more as an amusing joke, than even as a “guideline”.

    I suspect that terrorism will continue to be a tactic used against us until we adopt measures that are stern enough to convince the terrorists that we are really serious about the subject – something along the lines of what we did during the Moro Insurrection in the Philippines: terrorists were executed and their bodies wrapped in pig skin and hung on display. This is not a tactic that is likely to be adopted in these kinder, gentler times.

    • Hobbit@Law June 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      In that case, if they are criminals, they are entitled to the protections of criminal law and the justice system and may not merely be shot out of hand. Branding someone a “terrorist” does not, to the best of my legal and historical understanding, suspend Constitutional and normal human rights. And your argument that the US has never faced an enemy that followed the laws of war is irrelevant – that’s the functional equivalent of “well, BOBBY can do it” and as any five year old can say, is a loser. It does not matter what the other kids nations are doing, it matters what WE are doing. Unless, of course, you’re prepared to admit that the US is not really any different than any other thug nation out there. Personally, as an old-fashioned patriot I’d prefer to hope that my country is better than that. I will have to admit, though, that you are probably more correct.

      Terrorism – such as the US bombing of civilians – is a tactic used by the weak and/or cowardly, and has been for centuries. Nothing modern about it. The Treaty of Westphalia, which tried to limit wars to those who were supposed to fight them, was a lovely idea. But innocents and noncombatants have caught it in the shorts since wars began, and I see no reason to believe or pretend that it’s ever going to be any different. Which also means that there’s no particular moral high ground for the US to occupy and whine about how “horrible” “they” are for murdering civilians when the US has no compunctions about doing the exact same thing itself when its interests are at stake. Or when it even just feels like it ’cause, you know, the president’s ratings are down.

      • chris June 28, 2011 at 5:57 am

        There is a reason that wars are fought by soldiers, and not by lawyers. Wars are won by actions, not by words. The terrorists do not give a damn about the “best of your legal and historical understanding.” You act as though they are entitled to the presumption of innocence, a trial, a jury of their peers (other terrorists, perhaps?) and court appointed council. They are not. We may GIVE them these things, but they are not ENTITLED to them.

        1) You say “if they are criminals, they are entitled…”, as if there is any doubt that they are criminals. They are the same as pirates, and in relatively recent times, pirates were not entitled to a trial and were executed at the earliest convenience of their captors. Hung from the yardarm. Disney may make piracy seem all romantic, but it was dirty, murderous, and brutal. The solutions to it were also brutal.

        2) A treaty is a contract. If you don’t have to abide by it, then neither do I. We have tried to be the nice guy for the better part of a century, and our captured servicemen have been tortured and killed in spite of some words on paper. What hope do our soldiers have when captured by terrorists? Almost none.

        3) You say “I hope that my country is better than that.” Smug and superior, much?

        From where I sit, you don’t sound like any sort of patriot – let alone an old-fashioned one. If you are more concerned with how we treat our enemies than how they treat our soldiers, you have your priorities wrong. The most important thing is to win. Unless you can make an argument that being all nice- nice is going to lead to victory, or towards victory, then you are arguing the wrong case.

        Of course, all these rights would involve lots of lucrative fees for lawyers, not to mention high profile publicity. Perhaps you should hang out with some soldiers and try to explain to them what a good idea it is.

    • Hobbit@Law June 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      Nah, “smug” implies an “excessive” amount of pride. I don’t think there’s pride involved in knowing history, sociology, and law, though ignorance of same is both woeful and shameful. There’s some pride – though not excessive – in adhering to traditional American values as derived from The Enlightenment, despite the Modern American’s disdain for those in his ignorant rush to embrace fascism.

      And contrary to your assertion, terrorists often wear uniforms – ask any survivor of the terror bombings committed during World War II. Terrorism consists of violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal, and which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians). I understand it’s fashionable at the moment to exempt the military from terrorist charges, but that ignores centuries of “thou shalt not kill civilians” Killing noncombatants in order to influence political leadership is terrorism, regardless of what feel-good platitudes you tell yourself so you can sleep at night as a supporter of terror.

      I suspect that the American Empire is going to get its butt kicked and fall into total chaotic collapse because of morons who refuse to understand the nature of 4G warfare and who blindly support the Empire in its aims, regardless of the economic and social damage to the imperial homeland.

      Let’s see which of us is right in another couple years, eh?

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