Tuesday, September 19, 2006


What's That About The Geneva Conventions, Again?

I just found this, courtesy of Instapundit:
Exactly what protections are our troops being provided by the Geneva Convention? No enemy we've ever fought or are fighting has abided by it. So, in real world terms, the Geneva Convention provides no protection for our troops whatsoever. If we completely withdrew from the Geneva Convention tomorrow, it would have no impact at all on how our troops are treated.

Granted, the Geneva Convention could be of use in the unlikely event that we were to get into a war with Belgium, Italy, Spain or some other Western European nation. However, isn't the argument we're hearing from Europeans and American liberals that we should treat the terrorists we've captured by the rules of the Geneva Convention (as a matter of fact, better than the rules require) despite the fact that they haven't signed onto the treaty? Since that's the case, why wouldn't the same rules apply to any signatories of the treaty that we fought with? Even if, theoretically, we were doing something as evil as kicking their captured soldiers into industrial paper shredders for fun, shouldn't they give our soldiers every benefit the Geneva Convention requires?

What's that, you say? If we don't do it for their soldiers, why should we expect them to treat our troops with respect? Great! Now why doesn't that apply to our troops and Al-Qaeda? If Al-Qaeda is torturing and murdering our troops, why should we treat their captured prisoners as well as, say, American soldiers that are thrown into the brig? Why should we treat some terrorist from Saudi Arabia who wants to kill American citizens like he's a uniformed soldier who follows the rules of war or worse yet, like he has the same constitutional rights as an American citizen?
Indeed. (Admittedly, this has been on my mind lately; I had a call in yesterday morning to the Mike Gallagher show, on my way to work, to argue with him about the Geneva Conventions and terrorists. I never got on the air; I was still on hold when I got to the office and had to hang up.)

On a practical level, I disagree with the notion that withdrawing our support from the Geneva Conventions will have no effect on how our troops are treated. At this point in time, the enemies American troops face -- those enemies being terrorists who wear no uniforms, and claim to be bound by no ethical restrictions whatsoever -- seem to think that the Geneva Conventions protect terrorists, and thus embolden them. I think there's a fair chance that, were America to withdraw from the Conventions, it would be taken as a signal that American troops are taking off the kid gloves... and we might indeed see differences on the battlefield.

(Please don't tell me that, if American troops became more brutal, the terrorists would do likewise. There's no need to recount the grisly stories of what the terrorists have already done, with no trace of regret, while we've worked ourselves into a frenzy debating "water-boarding" and the like. If there's any measure of brutality that the terrorists have not yet tried, it's not because they've been holding back; it's because they haven't thought of it yet.)

Not that I'm advocating a withdrawal from the Conventions, mind you. I believe strongly in the need to fight an ethical fight -- not for our enemy's sake, but for ours. I also believe that it's possible to achieve victory at too high a price.

But extending the protection of the Geneva Conventions to terrorists is, at best, naive and ridiculous. The Conventions clearly apply to combatants in uniform, adhering to specific rules; they therefore do not apply, and were not intended to apply, to terrorists.

(This is not new, by the way. Terrorism was not invented on 9/11. The authors of the Geneva Conventions knew all about terrorism, and about guerilla warfare; they knew what they were doing when they excluded terrorists from the protections of the Conventions. That's what I had hoped to explain to Mr. Gallagher.)

As Bill Whittle pointed out, the soldier wears a uniform because it makes him a target -- and so that the civilian standing nearby will not be a target. Terrorists, refusing to wear uniforms and insisting on blending in with local populations, deliberately forego that protection for the civilians they supposedly are fighting for. They have not earned the right to be treated the same as soldiers, who protect civilians with their own lives.

So why do so many people insist on treating captured terrorists by the most humane standards the international community knows? Personally, I see it as wishful thinking -- if we treat a terrorist, until recently cowering behind his human shields, as though he was a soldier (and a protector of civilians), then perhaps he will become so. Even better, perhaps we will persuade his comrades, still on the battlefield, to behave more humanely than they do now.

It's a pleasant thought. The odds are against it, though, as far as human nature goes. The historical record doesn't back it up either -- what was that President Bush was saying, about the number of Guanatanamo Bay captives who were released, on insufficient evidence, and who have already found their way back to the battlefield?

It's pleasant to think that terrorists can be turned into lovers of peace, simply by treating them nicely. But we have no evidence whatsoever to back up that theory, and considerable evidence in the opposite direction. Believing in this sweet theory just because it's pleasant to do so, at a time when lives are at risk on the battlefield, is a luxury we cannot afford.

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