June 21, 2006

Higher Ground

When I came across this comment by Markos "Kos" Moulitsas via LGF, I was momentarily speechless:

There's a reason the Geneva Conventions exist. We've lost the moral high ground. What a fucking waste of a war.

Note I said, "momentarily."

You would think that Kos, as an Army veteran and a graduate of the Boston University School of Law, might have the inkling that what he states above is incorrect.

After all, the Geneva Convention was written to protect soldiers, militiamen, and civilians, not terrorists. As a matter of specific fact, groups such as terrorists seem specifically exempted from Geneva's protections [my bold]:

  • Articles 1 and 2 cover which parties are bound by GCIII
  • Article 2 specifies when the parties are bound by GCIII
    • That any armed conflict between two or more "High Contracting Parties" is covered by GCIII;
    • That it applies to occupations of a "High Contracting Party";
    • That the relationship between the "High Contracting Parties" and a non-signatory, the party will remain bound until the non-signatory no longer acts under the strictures of the convention. "...Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof."
  • Article 3 covers internal armed conflict (not of an international character) and it provides similar protections for combatants as those described in the rest of this document for a prisoner of war. That Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including POWs; shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. It also lays out some basic rules for the treatment of all people combatants and non-combatants alike. Article 3 also states that parties to the internal conflict should endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of GCIII.
  • Article 4 covers all conflicts not covered by Article 3 which are all conflicts of an international character. It defines prisoners of war to include:
    • 4.1.1 Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict and members of militias of such armed forces
    • 4.1.2 Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, provided that they fulfill all of the following conditions:
      • that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
      • that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (there are limited exceptions to this among countries who observe the 1977 Protocol I);
      • that of carrying arms openly;
      • that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
    • 4.1.3 Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.
    • 4.1.4 Civilians who have non-combat support roles with the military and who carry a vaild identity card issued by the military they support.
    • 4.1.5 Merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.
    • 4.1.6 Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.
    • 4.3 makes explicit that Article 33 takes precedence for the treatment of medical personnel of the enemy and chaplains of the enemy.

At no point in the section above are terrorists granted protection by the Geneva Convention. Article 4.1.2 stipulates that groups to be granted Geneva rights as "militias or other volunteer corps" must fulfill "all of the following conditions."

  • that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
  • that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (there are limited exceptions to this among countries who observe the 1977 Protocol I);
  • that of carrying arms openly;
  • that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Islamic terrorists, under the guise of al Qaeda or the insurgent Mujahedeen Shura Council, have never, at any point in the war, fulfilled these required four conditions, and very rarely meet even one. By definition, they are therefore exempted from Geneva's protections, and can be—quite legally—shot on sight.

As Jonah Goldberg notes:

We've all seen countless WWII movies about how soldiers out of uniform can be shot as spies under the Geneva Convention. Well, all of al Qaeda's soldiers are spies. And they most emphatically do not provide their prisoners with ping-pong tables and dormitories. They cut off their heads and put the pictures on the Internet and TV. The same goes for Osama's allies and fellow travelers in Iraq.

The liberal punditocracy seems to think it's an obvious fact that the Geneva Convention should apply to the war on terrorism, even though the plain text of the Geneva Convention applies as much to the war on terror as it does to the battle between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

By hiding among civilians, torturing and beheading captives, and acting like, well, terrorists, these people have, by their own actions, exempted themselves from Geneva's protections.

Kos states and apparently believes "we have lost the moral high ground" to the kind of barbarians who torture, mutilate, and kill their captives. This is the same Kos that said of American contractors killed, mutilate, burned and then hung from a bridge in Fallujah, "screw them."

It seems to me that Markos Moulitsas is the last person to be lecturing others about ground clearly so far above his reach.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 21, 2006 11:11 AM | TrackBack

In 1944, during the battle of the bulge, German soldiers dressed in U.S. uniforms and driving captured jeeps tried to get past check points. All who were caught were executed immediately, same as soldiers in civilian dress. No Amnesty International, no Gitmo.

Posted by: Tom TB at June 21, 2006 01:38 PM

"We've all seen countless WWII movies..."

No, I think that might be the problem.

I don't think most people have seen these movies. I don't think most people have even a movie-superficial understanding of WWII history, much less a true historical perspective. Only the vaguest sketch is taught in public schools.

Alright, I admit it, I haven't even seen many WWII movies, unless you count the Pearl Harbor movie with Ben Afflick.

Posted by: Amber at June 21, 2006 09:12 PM

The UN issued a report in February titled "Situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay."

Report located here:

The press covered the report and it's calls for the US to close Gitmo. What the press seems to have missed was this important note by the Chairperson of the working group that made the report:

"The Chairperson of the Working Group and the Special Rapporteur note that, while United States Armed Forces continue to be engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan as well as in other countries, they are not currently engaged in an international armed conflict between two Parties to the Third (POWs) and Fourth (civilians) Geneva Conventions. (B. 24 of the report)

In other words, the Geneva Conventions do not apply to these criminals, even if they meet all conditions of the Convention.

Posted by: Fred Fry at June 22, 2006 10:10 AM

Everyone should watch Sargeant York (Gary Cooper) and Patton (George C. Scott). There are many more, but these two films say more about who we are and what we stand for when war becomes necessary than most. The war journal of Alvin York is available on line, as well--a remarkable, edifying read.

Posted by: AyUaxe at June 22, 2006 10:38 AM

My blogging partner, Old soldier, linked to you on his latest post because he admired it. You have hit the nail on the head here, especially with the comment that "it seems to me that Markos Maulitsas is the lasts person to be lecturing others about ground clearly so far above his reach." Exactly!

Posted by: Gayle at June 22, 2006 09:26 PM