Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Many more war crimes in Fallujah

Over at Empire Notes Rahul Mahjan collects recent reports demonstrating the extent "the Geneva Conventions are out the window" in Fallujah. While the news may concentrate on the war crime of shooting an unarmed injured person this is but one serious breach.
The way the attack on Fallujah has been conducted makes one thing crystal clear: the Geneva Convention has been overtly and specifically abandoned, not just in the treatment of prisoners, but also in the conduct of military assaults.
The US military have defined all men of military age in Fallujah (15-55) to be targets, and claim that preventing all from leaving is the key to the success of the mission. They insist male Iraqis stay in a battlefield area. This is chilling - as it entails the mission can only be successful when the majority of Iraqis in Falluja are dead, whether they are civilians or combatants. Seemingly to increase the effectiveness of the civilian trap, US troops cut roads and bridges leading to the city.

Preventing civilians from leaving a combat zone is a clear war crime. The Geneva Conventions, recognised as the 'laws of war', require military forces to protect civilians as refugees and forbid returning non-combatants into a combat zone. On November 13 AP reported the following in a story called "Four choppers hit as forces spread"
A stream of refugees, about 300 men, women and children, were detained by American soldiers as they left southern Fallujah by car and on foot. The women and children were allowed to proceed. The men were tested for any residues left by the handling of explosives. All tested negative, but they were sent back.
As Empire Notes says, this clearly shows these men were non-combatants.

The refusal of the military to recognise legitimate non-combatants reminds me a great deal of their refusal to recognise those held in Guantanamo Bay as prisoners of war. Just as the have unilaterally redefined 'prisoner of war' not to include 'enemy combatants', they now appear to define a combatant as any Iraqi that happens to be armed with a Y chromosome.

There are further breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The Forth Convention says.
Art 18: Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.

Art. 19. The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded. The fact that sick or wounded members of the armed forces are nursed in these hospitals, or the presence of small arms and ammunition taken from such combatants and not yet been handed to the proper service, shall not be considered to be acts harmful to the enemy.
So making Falluja General Hospital one of the first targets, in a surprise attack, is another likely war crime. The US claims the hospital was a 'centre of propaganda' because of the way it reported civilian casualties, which would be a stretch to be an act 'harmful to the enemy' and far more likely to be regarded by medical staff as a humanitarian duty. Any PR coming from the hospital is far more likely to be pulmonary resuscitations, not press releases. And perhaps even a pinch of reality.

The US is a party to the basic Geneva Conventions, but has not ratified some of the later Protocols - something it has in common with other 'rogue' states. Despite the fact the US has not ratified Protocol I; it is still widely recognised international law. In the light of recent events, it makes interesting reading.
Art. 50. Definition of civilians and civilian population

1. A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 (A) (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.

2. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

3. The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.

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At 11:41 pm, Blogger flogger said...

Since you are so critical, what is your proposed solution? As for the Marine who shot the wounded insurgent in the mosque, I think it should be investigated. That said, I can not begin to understand the fatigue and fear soldiers must have when the enemy is faking death and injury to lure soldiers into getting closer so they can try to kill them more easily.

Whose side are you on? It makes me wonder when I see posts like yours. It seems like you are keeping score, or something. I think the term war crime is an awkward word, given that the act of war entails killing people and killing people is normally a crime.

Since you are seemingly keeping score, do you recall exactly how many people were snuffed out in the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001? I don't remember what the final body count was.

At 10:51 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

I am glad you think the case of the Marine who sow a wounded Iraqi should be investigated. If he is found guilty (and it seems pretty clear he will) I hope fatigue and fear will be taken into account when sentencing. In fact, this underlines my key point - there are many more abuses occuring in Fallujah than the actions of one solider, and senior military chiefs and ulitmately the Bush Administration need to be held to account for these.

Why did US senior commanders allow a Marine who had been inqured the day before and had recently seen one of his buddies being killed back into combat?

I can see parallels with the case of Lynley England already. Yes, this solider is probably guilty of shooting an unarmed man, but is it fair that he is the symbolic fall guy who takes the blame for all the humanitarian abuses in Fallujah?

Its not about 'keeping score', its about justice and respect for the law. I hope the group that killed Margaret Hussan are bought to justice - killing of civilians is abhorant not matter who is doing it.

It is a shame that the US and the Bush Administration does not support the international criminal court - as this would be the best place to try Saddam, bin Laden (hopefully) as well as those involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

"I think the term war crime is an awkward word, given that the act of war entails killing poeple and killing people is normaly a crime"

Accusations of war crimes should not be made lightly, but nor should they be dismissed as 'awkward'. The Geneva conventions were in fact designed to deal with the difficulty you raise above - they hold that soliders can not be put up on murder charges if they shoot another solider engaged in an act of war - but there is no such defence if their victim is a civilian.

No real evidence has been given to prove Iraq had anything at all to do with Sept 11, its only been asserted, and that does not make it fact.

Sept 11 does not give the US licence for unlimited revenge attacks on the world. If it wants to claim the moral high ground over the terrorists, then it should act according to higher moral principles. If the US wants to claim the killing of civilians is wrong (ie Sept 11), then it must refrain from doing so itself.

As for my 'solution' thats another long post. But in my opinion it would involve a recognition that the miliatary presence of the US is fueling the insurgency. The US should withdraw, even if it appears domestically politically unpalatable, and let a neutral country (Arab league?/Germany/France) provide policing and security operations in order that elections can be held.

The history of the British occupation of Iraq during the 1920s-1930s are a pretty good demonstration of why the current approach taken by the US is unlikely to work. I have written a couple of articles on this - see here

At 11:47 pm, Blogger flogger said...

Regarding your comment, "Sept 11 does not give the US licence..."

I just want to clear one thing up, straight away. September 11th actually did change everything. If there is a perceived threat of Muslim extremist posturing to wage terror, the United States is obligated to kill it. The United States is responsible to protect her citizens. And it is now undeniable that Muslim extremist terrorists intend to hurt and kill Americans, and other Infidels for that matter. If you are not a Muslim extremist, or live next door to one, then you don't have much to fear. So it's not like it is the United States versus the rest of the world. On the other hand, if you are a Muslim extremist terrorist, prepare to suffer the wrath of the United States military.

I have no beef with the Geneva Conventions. War crimes happen and should be punished accordingly.

As for the Marine who shot the insurgent in the mosque, he is likely to become a scape goat. And you are right, it is not fair if that is the case. It should be noted that Marines from his same unit were on patrol down the street at the time of the now-famous shooting. Those Marines down the street were coming up against bogus insurgent casualties and booby trapped bodies. The Marines were in radio contact with each other, warning of this scenario. So the Marine shooter was en garde and especially sensitive to the possibility of suicide bombers and explosive-laden corpses. There is a saying, "Better to be tried by 12 than to be carried by 6."

I look forward to reading more of your opinions on how to deal with the situation. I think you are intelligent and a good thinker. And I happen to agree with your idea of a neutral country security force instead of a U.S.-led coalition. It would likely be more appropriate at this point.


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