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Kidnapping and the war

You don’t have to hold an anti-interventionist stance regarding Iraq to feel mighty queasy about this story in the Washington Post, which covers a case where the U.S. Army seized the family of an Iraqi officer, threatening to hold the family until the person concerned co-operated with the Army’s requests.

Lovely. If the coalition wants to hand propaganda material on a plate to those who would have preferred Saddam to remain in charge than that we should have liberated that country, then this sort of thing is just ideal.

I hope the persons responsible are dealt with harshly for this.

And I don’t want lots of comments about how “Pearce has turned into a peacnik idiot yada-yada”. Kidnapping is wrong. Period.

31 comments to Kidnapping and the war

  • George Peery

    “Kidnapping is wrong. Period.”

    Reluctantly, I must acknowledge the obvious — you’re right. As a retired American Army officer, I’m astonished that my service would have done such a thing.

  • R.C. Dean

    So, if they had picked up the wife and daughter for questioning about the whereabouts of the suspect, that would presumably be OK. Routine procedure, etc. The wife and daughter would be released “in due course,” meaning presumably after the interrogation.

    So far, so good, right? Nothing illegal, no real violations of rights recognizable under martial law, I presume.

    So add to this scenario that somebody leaves a note that says “We have your family. Turn yourself in.” I don’t think this turns it into a kidnapping if the soldiers had no intention of holding the family indefinitely, which apparently they didn’t. This reads to me like it could be some bright spark saying, hey, while we’re questioning the family, lets play a little mind game.

    And it worked.

    Based on the facts in the article, I am far from convinced this was a kidnapping or other unlawful detention of the family. If it was legal to pick them up in the first place and hold them as long as they did, leaving the note does not really matter much or bother me.

  • mad dog barker

    Having won the war, we now get to do what we want. As long as it is economically viable – why should we stop? There are no constraining laws when one is a super power and if the victims are not American then it never happened anyway.

    Have you learnt nothing from the past months? Get with it, dude. This war on terror is not for the squeamish. As every true American knows the only way to beat terror is to have more and bigger terror ourselves. After all, it worked for Hitler, Stalin and Sadam.

    (is this right? – ED)

  • sick puppy

    Kidnapping is the only language they understand.

  • George Peery

    The tactic employed is unbecoming, R.C. Dean. The US Army has no business acting like gangsters. Leave that to the CIA.

  • R.C. Dean

    I just want to be clear on what happened. I am not at all sure that it was kidnapping. If it was not, and if the admittedly rosy scenario that I posit above actually obtains on the ground, then I am not inclined to throw out an effective and apparently legal tactic on the purely aesthetic grounds that it is unbecoming.

  • KymarFye

    You do a disservice by describing only that part of the article that describes the tactic, and leaving out the rest of the material confirming that it was, as pointed out above, merely a mind game. (“They would have been released in due course, [Col. Hogg] added later.”) It was akin to a detective lying to a suspect in order to get him to talk – a normal interrogation tactic.

    There was no threat even of harming the wife and daughter – which is part of what’s particularly nice about the tactic in this instance. The Iraqi officer probably wondered if any of the propaganda about the Americans he had heard, and might well have spread, was true. He might have feared that the Americans might have been even 1/10th as cruel with his wife and daughter as he or his former masters would have been.

    Obviously, the officer who was describing the event saw nothing shameful about it at all. Neither do I. The US soldiers involved may not deserve a medal, but they deserve congratulations for use of a clever, harmless pressure technique.

    Or are you saying that you disapprove of the use of psychological pressure against Iraqi fugitives?

  • I don’t understand why the author of this post is opposed to the kidnapping, but supports the war. The U.S. government, in invading and conquering Iraq, has kidnapped an entire country. Isn’t it a little late for the War Party to start having moral compunctions?

  • S. Weasel

    Dear me. Raimondo. Business slow?

  • KymarFye

    What an hilarious example of anti-war self-righteousness on the part of J. Raimondo. It’s not just that the terms of his post could so easily, and more accurately, be reversed – as in, “the Coalition rescued a nation that had been held hostage for decades” – but that he writes as though completely unaware of any even arguable moral justification for the war.

    Isn’t about time that war opponent BEGAN to have moral compunctions?

  • M. Simon

    To make this perfectly clear:

    The British police must never leave notes to inform others when it picks up people for questioning from their home.

    Especially if that note might give a mistaken impression.

    Only official notes will be allowed so as to avoid giving the wrong impression. A comittee will be appointed.


  • asm

    Pearce has turned into a peacnik[sic] idiot.

  • Kelvin Zero

    M. Simon – Such is the British system. I am not aware of any such American laws.

    J. Raimondo – Any moral compunctions on wanting the crimes that existed in Iraq to continue? Didn’t think so.

    That said, it may have been an effective tactic and may have been, strictly speaking, legal, but it I believe that it does cross a line. We’re getting them with other means, let’s leave it at that.

  • Zathras

    As RC Dean has pointed out, the context given in the Post story suggests this was something other than a kidnapping as we understand that term. In fairness to everyone it might be best to insert a qualifier here about getting too philosophical in response to one newspaper’s account of this incident — for all we know the Iraqi general was coming in anyway and the American colonel quoted was just trying to show off.

    Assuming that the Post story is right, though, I understand why there might be outrage and hostile propaganda generated by this in European countries who thought the war to remove Saddam Hussein was an outrage to begin with. Why would something like this generate outrage in an Arab country? Kidnapping, as I understand it, does not carry quite the stigma in that part of the world that it does in Europe and North America, and a tactic like this (a very temporary detention of a suspect’s relatives) would appear a very mild tactic to the police in almost any Arab country.

    If one were to object to this on the grounds that we must stick to the straight and narrow path so as to be above reproach by out enemies, well, I understand that argument even if I do not agree with it. As a practical matter, though, I’m not sure I see how this hurts us with the people whose opinions matter most.

  • Inspire 28

    Don’t you know there’s a war on? I am confdent that the family never had reason to fear for their safety or comfort. Under martial law, Potential witnesses can be arrested and interrogated. To call this a kidnapping is nonsense.
    To repeat a phrase I have heard often in recent years, “If just one life [or child] is saved, then it is worth it.”

  • Chris Josephson

    I read this article earlier today and it never impressed me as a kidnapping. If, indeed, it was a kidnapping I am against these tactics. However, it’s not clear that it was.

    (sarcasm on)
    To those who believe the US is employing Hitler or Stalin-like tactics:

    You ain’t see nothing yet. Figured the worst has already been said about us so what the hell? Why not live up (or down) to the opinion many have of us? What have we got to loose?

    We’re freedom’s worst nightmare. It’s such a shame it takes so long to conquer the world and expand our Empire. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Whatever country you’re in, just wait patiently and we’ll get to you too. That way, all the blathering idiots won’t look so bad. You’ll be able to say you were right all along!! You’ll be vindicated. This action in Iraq is nothing if we are to mimic Hitler or Stalin.

    How many countries did Hitler invade? We’ll top that so the sloganeers who say Bush is worse than Hitler will be right. We aim to please!!

    Have a nice day!! 🙂

    (sarcasm off)

  • Guy Herbert

    I’m with Jonathan. It’s wrong. And counterproductive. As is torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial.

    For those who think it doesn’t matter what our boys do to a bunch of towel-heads, which is the vile sentiment a lot of this boils down to–“the only language they understand”, usw–consider this:-

    Lawless, brutal behaviour by the occupying forces makes their work harder by (1) reinforcing the culture of arbitrary violence and reprisal and undermining any recovery of civil society in Iraq; (2) inhibiting the development of trust in the US and its motives, and those who collaborate with it; (3) creating fear and suspicion in those who might otherwise be keen to help; (4) vitiating claims to be restoring a moral government to Iraq; (5) simply being (rightly) resented as oppressive and thus encouraging resistance. That’s without considering any propaganda effects on the rest of the world.

    When arbitrary application would have really helped, and been correct–shooting looters–it wasn’t tried. Nobody really cares greatly about the rights of Uday and Qusay–not even me–but how the system treats anyone who’s less certainly a villain matters greatly. Its the measure of how serious one is about rule of law, about the civilisation one is (or should be) fighting for. If it is the only language they understand, we are supposed to be teaching them another.

    Invading Iraq makes no sense except as part of an AEI-style strategy to use is as a base to spread Western values in the region by setting up a secular constitutional government there, yet my impression is that there has been no adequate preparation for this more difficult stabilisation phase despite about a year of planning for the initial attack.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Thanks Guy Herbert, good points all.

    The story troubled me because it did feel like a significant “crossing of the line” by a member of the coalition forces. BTW, the war is supposed to be over, right? Don’t take my word for it, take it from George. W. Bush.

    Justin Raimondo’s comments are inane. Taking the Iraqis hostage as a nation? Like I said in a few weeks back, what is so sacrosanct anyway about the sovereignty of a brutal police state like Iraq? This is something the isolationists never answer. They have elevated national sovereignty into a sort of religion. There is only one form of sovereignty that true libertarians should care about – the sovereign individual.

    Thanks Justin, when I begin to get doubts about the war, all I need to do is read something from you and I am back to my belligerent neo-con self!

  • M. Simon


    I had no idea you already had a law on the books and the forms already printed. Has this situation happened in Britain before? Or do your lawmakers just have good anticipatory powers? You must have awfully thick law books to have every situation covered.

    Again. I am amazed.

    As to developing trust: did the family get to go when the wanted man turned himself in?

    Was the family harmed in interrogation?

    Was the wanted man harmed?

    Fooled is one thing. Harmed is another. It amazes me that it is so difficult to tell the difference.

  • Joe

    It could be that either Col. David Hogg made a mistake by telling this story in the manner he did or it has been retold in the reporting… or their might be another reason- reporting it now might be damage limitation!

    -If the family is being picked up for intelligence gathering – that is understandable…no problem.

    – Leaving the note – is understandable – as a mind game… but is a problem in that Col. Hogg should have been aware of how this might be perceived when it became public knowledge.

    In War it is a fair tactic to use mind games like this – but to allow it to be reported in this manner is either a little naive – or – a necessary gambit…

    Perhaps Col. Hogg realised that this had become public knowledge and wanted to make his side of the story -“an intelligence mind game” – public before it started being reported around the world as an actual KIDNAPPING by US troops.

  • Dale Amon

    Jonathon: A factual correction on a misquote “the media” insists on repeating until it’s “true”: Bush said “major combat” operations are over and said it on the deck of an air craft carrier.

    This was a true statement. I can’t for the life of me remember any US-Iraqi tank battles or battalion sized battles that have occured since that statement.

    We’re in a period of low intensity combat. Casualty rates are extremely low. We’re probably still under the casualty count of the first 30 seconds at Omaha Beach.

    We’ve an excellent situation going in Iraq. All the middle-east loonies are dropping whatever they are up to so to come running to where we can kill them. This is good.

    Interestingly, what I’ve heard from Iraqi’s is they expect us to be a lot harsher against the bad guys than we have been. It seems one of the threads underlying the complaints of lack of security is that we didn’t just go in and shoot the looters. Saddam apparenly cleaned up looting in Basra in a matter of days… and that is what people there are comparing our results to and why they are complaining about lack thereof. We’re just too “nice”. They assume we aren’t serious because of it.

  • frank borger

    The same article also had this in it

    At the begining of June, before the U.S. offensives began, the reward for killing an Americn soldier was about $300, an officer said. Now, he said, street youths are being offered as much as $5,000 – – and are being told that if they refuse, their families will be killed…

  • sick puppy

    And and American/British soldier gets a day’s pay if they shoot one or more Iraqis. Hell, just to keep moral up, they get the pay even if they don’t shoot Iraqis. And apparently if they refuse an order to shoot Iraqis they can be tried by a military court and executed!

    As we don’t kill the families, I would say that our system is more humane…

  • sick puppy

    …unless your family name ends in “Hussein Al Tikriti”, of course. In which case your genes have predisposed you to dying at the hands of our brave lads. They don’t leave a calling card with “kidnapped” on it they call with a missile with “love from 101st” on it. Not that it would matter, Saddam came from a “broken family”.

    Look on the bright side they could have had cancer locked in the genes, which is a long slow death. Better to go out with a gun in your hands!

  • Adam

    Kidnapping is wrong. Leaving that note made American soldiers look like gangsters. Americans expect more from their defenders. Of course, this is easy for me to say from my living room. I might have a different viewpoint if I was living in tent in the desert somewhere.

  • Johan

    Fooled is one thing. Harmed is another.”

    – M. Simon

    Indeed. Maybe pride has a lot to do with admitting one was fooled, and thus taking a self-defense position and saving what’s left of the already broken and shattered pride? And by doing so, one can make a hen out of a feather.

  • This sort of behavior, while disgusting, is not without precedent. The Union army held families of Confederate guerillas hostage in Kansas during the Civil War, for example. More recently, the British army held families of Boer guerillas hostage, and in so doing introduced the phrase “concentration camp” into the English language.

    It might be argued that the government should have learned from the mistakes of the past–but then, if they had, they wouldn’t have launched their colonial adventure in the first place.

    At least this general’s family hasn’t been killed (or at least, not yet). It’s inevitable that guerilla wars get more and more barbaric as they continue–if something like this happens in a year, I won’t be surprised if the family is mysteriously killed “by mistake.”

  • Joe

    Ken, you said “This sort of behavior, while disgusting…”

    Is it disgusting?… What is disgusting about using an enemies own thoughts and principles against him?

    Kidnapping is definitely a serious crime … and was a tool often used by the Saddam Regime and is still apparantly in use by what’s left of his followers…which is exactly why it works.

    This idea to capture the Iraqi could not work if the Iragi General did not believe that everyone thinks like himself… he wouldn’t have surrendered himself if his own principles didn’t included using kidnapping!

    It is no crime to let people imagine that you are just like them… and that apparantly is what happened here. Letting the enemy imagine that you would treat his family as badly as he would treat yours is not disgusting… it is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

    By being disgusted- you are jumping straight to the conclusion that against all their training and the laws and the rules which the US soldiers operate under… that an actual kidnap took place… and then for some strange reason their Commanding Officer felt happy to brag about committing this criminal offence to the media!… hahaha oh the games people play… how can we believe anyone? 😉

    Do you realise that you are reacting just the way the Iraqi General did!!! …hmmm You aren’t a kidnapper by any chance are you? 😉

  • Fred Boness

    You think THAT was a kidnapping? THIS is a kidnapping:


  • Inspire 28

    Check the dictionary for Kidnap” and “arrest” and decide which more clearly reflects what happened.
    With all due respect [well, perhaps not too much respect] you are all talking like men with paper assholes.

  • Eric Sivula

    Kidnapping is wrong. Period. — Jonathon Pearce

    What if the US had had evidence that this General was supposed to release some chemical weapon in Baghdad. Why would it be wrong to “kidnap” the General’s family, and leaving a note saying: “We have your family, turn yourself and the weapon in and they will be released.”? I just think amking a sweeping, absolute statement like, “Kidnapping is wrong, period”, is not terribly realistic.

    Reports are that the US military has already decided that this tactic will not be used again. I suspect that this general was known to be especially attached to his family. Besides, the odds are good their treatment and accomadations were better with the US troops than at home.