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Oxymorons in Baghdad

I don’t always agree with what SecDef Rumsfeld says and I find his statements on volunteer human shields to be particularly wrong:

“And I want to note, again, it is a violation of the law of armed conflict to use noncombatants as a means of shielding potential military targets — even those people who may volunteer for this purpose. Iraqi actions to do so would not only violate this law but could be a — could be considered a
war crime in any conflict. Therefore, if death or serious injury to a noncombatant resulted from these efforts, the individuals responsible for deploying any innocent civilians as human shields could be guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.”

There is no such thing as a “voluntary human shield”. The words cancel each other out and leave… just another ordinary enemy combatant. Any British, American, Australian or person of whatever nationality who makes a decision, of their own free will, to intentionally place themselves in harms way in defense of a combatant’s facilities should be treated like any other member of that combatant’s forces.

This is an issue of personal liberty. These people may be stupid. They may be fools. It does not matter: they have made their own choice.

We should treat them no differently from any other Iraqi soldier, nor should we treat their chosen superior officers any differently than any other Iraqi officer.

Let’s not muddy the semantic waters. A Human Shield is an involuntary innocent, a person taken forcefully and tied to the front of a tank or staked out beside a power plant. If we start calling volunteers by the same name there is no telling where such logic will lead.

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25 comments to Oxymorons in Baghdad

  • You are of course correct. I was just feeding that line to the press. In reality, CIA NOCs have been planting micro-GPS transmitters on these individuals so that we can use them to more accurately target the facilities deemed most critical by Saddam Hussein. In this way, we will minimize truly innocent civilian casualties and eliminate traitorous enemy combatants at the same time.

  • Aheheheheheh. Well done, Mr. Rumsfeld.

  • Byron

    lol. Good points Dale and Don.

  • There are 2 reasons for the “voluntary human shield” term… one banal, one regrettable.

    The first reason is that “human shield” is what they call themselves. It wouldn’t be the first time that a group labeled itself in a deceptive fashion.

    The second is that we (americans) aren’t capable of just calling the “voluntary human shields” enemies. We aren’t capable of calling treason by its right name anymore, even when stared in the face by it.

    There’s a reason Johnnie Walker wasn’t tried for treason, you know. And why there won’t be treason trials after the war, either.

    Obviously, trivial amounts of “aid and comfort” to an enemy isn’t treason. But imposing your body atop a enemy command&control bunker (or WMD site), intending to prevent its destruction is quite apparently treason, regardless of your stance on the war.

  • Let’s not muddy the semantic waters. A Human Shield is an involuntary innocent, a person taken forcefully and tied to the front of a tank or staked out beside a power plant. If we start calling volunteers by the same name there is no telling where such logic will lead.

    So are Iraqi draftees legit military targets like “voluntary human shields” are or are they involuntary innocents who must be protected like any other civilians?

  • Dale Amon

    Your question is a valid one from a libertarian viewpoint but misses the wider meaning. Terms such as “conscript”, “combatant”, “human shield” have well understood definitions and much historical precedent – and wide acceptance of that meaning – behind them. Fiddling with those meanings could have rather disastrous consequences. Do we really want these terms to be defined, Chomsky-like, according to everyone’s own narrow interests?

  • Dale Amon

    Ryan: As the Iraqi Foreign Protest Squadrons are unarmed, the imposition of their bodies in front of a tank represent a trivial amount of stopping power for an anti-tank round. These people represent zero military threat.

    My point is, by volunteering, they have removed from themselves the restraints of Just War theory on when and for what reasons measures may be taken which result in the death of hostages/shields. When we target a facility, their lives are of exactly the same consequence as those of the Iraqi soldier or worker beside them, no more, no less.

    Just let the survivors limp on home on their own afterwards. Or perhaps our forces could give them a guided tour of the underground bunkers and the torture camps. Hopefully when they return home they will pass on the lessons learned to their friends.

  • Do we really want these terms to be defined, Chomsky-like, according to everyone’s own narrow interests?

    Where does “Chomsky-like” come from? Governments have all sorts of terms to cover up the moral implications of their actions, and I’d have lots of company on this board making that exact same comment about things not involving Iraq.

  • Lou Gots

    First, as to “just war,” the concept refers to purely religious doctrines that are not part of the modern law of war, although the two disciplines may share certain principles, such as proportionality, which “just war” doctrine would apply to all war-making,but which the Western way of war considers only as to collateral damage.. “Just war” in the present day is a covert synomym for incrementalism and a prescription for defeat of the West. It is not how we fight and not how we deter war. It would force us to trade bodies with totalitarians, which means another Vietnam and another defeat. Second, as to “human shields,” these are not merely combatants, they are unlawful combatants and liable to be treated as war criminals. The law of war does not look favorably upon those who perfidiously exploit its protection, such as those who feign surrender, or misuse the red cross insignia, or who pretend to be protected persons while shielding military targets. Such war criminals, if they are not first shot, could be apprehended, tried by military commission and then–shot.

  • Kevin Connors

    Vary astute observation, Dale.

    Ryan: While deplorable, I don’t think the actions of these lambs to the alaughter rises to the level of “treason”. However, your observation that we do not have the stomach to charge more active combatants, such as Mr. Walker, as such, may indeed be correct.

  • A conscript is a victim of their own government but that does not mean it makes them less of a legitimate target in achieving victory in a just war, it just makes a terrible state of affairs (i.e. a war) all the more tragic. Wars are ghastly by their very nature and innocent people inevitably die as a consequence of them… that does not change the fact a war which is just and feasible should still be undertaken.

  • Such war criminals, if they are not first shot, could be apprehended, tried by military commission and then–shot.

    They aren’t “pretending” to be anything – all the facts are out and they have a different opinion on their noncombatant status than you do. That differs from pretend to surrender or pretending to be Red Cross.

    Should we bring back the draft? Some 18 year old’s failure to fight aids and comforts our enemies. Censor media? Disagreement w/ the war aids and comforts our enemies. Wasn’t it Lincoln who said why shoot deserters, but leave people alone when they critize his war (thus encouraging desertion)?

    Kill, KILL, KILL!!!!!!!!!!!

    Don’t you see that this war is turning you into Hillary Clinton? Disagree w/ the war and you want Saddam to live forever. Disagree w/ the welfare state and you want children to live in poverty. Give the govt free reign because we cannot risk NY getting nuked by Iraq. Give the govt free reign because we cannot risk NY being swamped by global warming caused rises in the sea level. Disagree with affirmative action and you hate minorities. Disagree with the war and you hate Jewish people, Isreal, the US, the West, etc. You cannot disagree, you must be a hater.

  • Joe Moffitt

    In all honesty I don’t think that Mr. Walker was guilty of treason. He did join up with the enemies of his country, but when he did so he effectively renounced his American citizenship.

    He never used his former citizenship as cover to attack America. If he had spied for Al Qaeda or if he had participated in terrorist activities while still pretending to be loyal to America it would be a different story. But he was just another enemy combatant in my view. Which means he should have been turned over to the new government in Afghanistan.

    I feel the same way about the volunteer human shields. They aren’t traitors but they have renounced their American citizenship permanently. After they are captured they should be turned over to the new Iraqi government, who may not look kindly at foreigners who came in to support a brutal dictator like Hussein.

    Maybe they will be hanged for their crimes against the people of Iraq… But it’s none of our concern, they since they aren’t Americans anymore.

  • Joe Moffit: I actually made much the same point in a samizdata.net article called Who owns John Walker? back in December 2001.

    The USA does rather like to claim it not just controls the territory of the United States but actually owns its ‘citizens’ (I actually prefer the more honest term ‘subject’ than citizen).

  • They aren?t traitors but they have renounced their American citizenship permanently

    Is there any other government policy that you can lose your citizenship over, if you get in your government’s way? How about the War on Drugs? If they catch you with drugs, you have sided with foreign drug cartels and should be forcibly shipped off to Columbia, right?

  • Paul Marks

    A good blog and interesting comments.

    However, on one of Scott’s points – surely there is a big difference between speaking against the war and going to help the other side.

  • Scott: If they catch you with drugs, you have sided with foreign drug cartels and should be forcibly shipped off to Columbia, right?

    That is not very sensible. The idiotic ‘war’ on drugs is of course not a war at all, unless it is perhaps a war on the English language.

    As for the larger question, logically a person can change their allegiances if they wish… after all, if a person can ‘become an American’ they can surely ‘become an Afghan Taliban’ or ‘become a self-described Iraqi human shield’ too. Surely it is actions which determine allegiances and not accidents of birth. In any case, ‘national’ allegiances are really only just a matter of convenience for many folks (like me for example).

  • Surely it is actions which determine allegiances and not accidents of birth.

    You’re not afraid that actions being taken to imply allegiances by the government would let the govt strip someone of citizenship anytime it wants to?

    It would be like saying “no trials for accused domestic terrorists” – the govt could just call anyone a domestic terrorist it wanted to, and thus give nobody a trial when the govt feels the urge to move against them.

  • Scott: Huh? perhaps I am just dense but I really do not understand what you are talking about now. It should be obvious from what I wrote that I take the view that ‘citizenship’ is an imposition to be resisted rather than a cherished right to be defended.

    You suggest that governments will behave badly if this or that is the case… well no shit! I take it as a given that all governments will behave badly, so the less government there is, the less scope there is for it to behave in any manner, including ‘badly’.

    Allegiances are only reasonably determined by actions, not state issued bits of paper… if a person gives aid and comfort to people trying to blow me up or tyrannize my life, then that person is my enemy regardless of what it says on his passport, and should be regarded as ‘the enemy’ by anyone who shares the social values I share. States are not worth defending or dying for but sometimes a civil society is… and allegiances to a civil society (rather than a state) are not something you can impose on someone, therefore it can only be determined by a person’s actions.

  • and allegiances to a civil society (rather than a state) are not something you can impose on someone, therefore it can only be determined by a person’s actions.

    I wasn’t thinking in terms of imposing an allegiance; I was thinking of legal rights (i.e. when can the US govt bypass a citizen’s constitutional rights by claiming that person’s actions – this being determined before the trial – was a rejection of citizenship and thus of protection by the constitution).

  • Frederick Libby was a young American who enlisted in the Canadian Army and then went on to fly for the Royal Flying Corps, becoming an ace over France in WWI. Later, upon joining the American Armed Forces, he had to swear an oath to regain his citizenship.
    Some of us do take our citizenship seriously, such as blogger Ravenwood, who recently & joyously became an American.
    When citizenship & patriotism is treated lightly, you get things like Muslim schoolchildren in N.Y. who say being American is meaningless, and a plague of traitor/spies who we have foolishly failed to execute.

  • Why isn’t the word traitor being used? Are most commentators afraid of it? These “human shields” are supplying aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States and the United Kingdom during a period of hostilities. If they survive, why shouldn’t they be arrested and tried for treason?

  • Look, a number of you seem to think that citizenship is something amorphous, that floats around but doesn’t stick. I am telling you that it is a specific legal status like marriage.

    Perry: Surely it is actions which determine allegiances and not accidents of birth.

    Joe Moffitt: In all honesty I don’t think that Mr. Walker was guilty of treason. He did join up with the enemies of his country, but when he did so he effectively renounced his American citizenship.

    If you screw around while you are married, you are guilty of adultery. You don’t love your spouse anymore and you want to screw around, you get a divorce.

    Similarly, if you want to join foreign armies, you run your butt over to the nearest embassy and fill out the proper paperwork to renounce your citizenship. ESPECIALLY after war breaks out between the two.

    Its possible to hate your spouse and still be married. Does that mean its OK to kick your wife out of the house and invite the 18-year-old next door to take her spot on the bed?

    After all, actions determine allegiances, right?

    ——————

    Its possible to dislike your country and still be a citizen. Does that mean its OK to attempt to interfere with a war, trying to dictate by your actions to your countrymen what they may and may not attack?

    If you are successful, then at what point does your denial of a target become treason? If you shield a SAM site that then shoots down an american pilot? If you shield a C&C bunker that organizes a city fight that kills hundreds? If you shield Saddam and prolong the war by a few weeks?

    ———————–

    None of your comments assume that the shields will be successful in denying any militarily signifigant target. I happen to agree, but please note that there is no “attempted treason” charge. Treason is determined by your action and intent, not in the geopolitical circumstances of this particular war.

    Let me make two unrealistic assumptions to illustrate this:

    1. The human shields are successful: The government very rarely attacks targets that have american citizen shields.

    2. Iraq is invading the U.S., not the reverse.

    Neither of these differences make one speck of difference to weather or not a given action is treason. As I said, the circumstances of any given war aren’t addressed at all in any definition of treason that I’ve ever seen.

    So, as the Iraqis are landing in Florida, would american volunteers shielding the invasion boats be traitors, or not? Don’t take too long trying to decide, ok?

    So, IF you grant that:

    1. The distinction between offensive-defensive war (get them before they get us) and pure-defensive war has no bearing on weather an act is treasonous or not. So U.S. invading Iraq is the same as Iraq invading U.S. for the purposes of judging treasonous behavior.

    2. Treason need not be successful to be Treason (Benedict Arnold did not overthrow the government). So weather human shields actually do convice our politicans or generals to avoid bombing a target has no bearing for the purposes of judging treasonous behavior.

    …THEN you MUST accept my Iraq-invading-America example as valid to prove that human shields are treasonous.

    And if you don’t agree with the premises, you must show why you do not. Preferably with either examples, case law, or supreme court rulings since this is a legal question.

  • Bob

    Ryan,

    Since you say this is a “legal” question, then I’m not holding out for any “logical” result. Sad, but more often true than not!

  • Well, if you want to try the human shields in a court of logic, go right ahead. =)

    Its rather redundant to note that their legal status (combatant? war criminal? civilian?) depends on law.

    I anticipate that in this case politics will skew the result much more thoroughly then law will, defense lawyer circumlocutions notwithstanding.