Wednesday, November 17, 2004

In the Heat of Battle

USA Today reports that the "U.S. Marines Corps is investigating the shooting death of a wounded Iraqi in Fallujah last weekend to determine if the man posed a threat to Marines or was a victim of the improper use of force. The Marine who pulled the trigger has been removed from action and has not been identified. "We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability," Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said. "The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued."

Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch said, "If it is what it appears to be it would probably be a war crime". Robert Work, a former Marine colonel and now a senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said "Marines were warned to be on the lookout for this. Coming upon someone who had been shot and started to move and perhaps look like they were going to trigger a device and take Marines with them, you have to make a split-second decision."

One of the international conventions which the accused Marine may have violated is the Geneva Convention. Prior to their adoption, behavior on the battlefield was governed by a mutual understanding among the combatants, where they existed at all. But in 1864 there were attempts to adopt a single standard of behavior that would apply to all combatants. The Geneva Conventions were considered to be a great advance in ameliorating the conditions commonly found on the 19th century battlefield.

 It all began in June 1859, when a merchant named Henry Dunant was traveling through the war-ravaged plain of Normandia, north of Italia, after the battle of Solferino. Seeing thousands of wounded soldiers left dying in the mercy of fate, he appealed to the local inhabitants to come and help, insisting that combatants from both sides should be taken care of.

... the Swiss government agreed to convene a Diplomatic Conference which was held in Geneva in 1864. Representatives of twelve governments took part and adopted a treaty prepared by the International Committee and entitled the "Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field". This agreement, with its ten articles, was the first treaty of international humanitarian law. Subsequently, further conferences were held, extending the basic law to other categories of victims, such as prisoners of war.

Some of the protections accorded to prisoners under the Geneva Convention are as follows:

Art 13. Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

Art 17. Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information.

Any one, not simply uniformed persons in regular armies, could be considered prisoners of war, provided they met certain conditions.

Art 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:  ...

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.  ....

(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.

The articles of the Geneva Convention have not always been respected, even by nations that have adopted them. A sampler of events below shows that while the Conventions are widely recognized as an ideal, their faithful implementation has left much to be desired.

Chechnyan bodies booby-trapped The discovery coincided with the visit to Chechnya of the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles. He has asked the Russian authorities for a full investigation. Russian sources have said some of the human remains in the grave were booby-trapped, using trip-wires linked to mines.
Marine Shoots Wounded Prisoner in Fallujah A colonel who recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, told Arab News the Marine in question was wounded in the face the previous day; and that a Marine in the same unit had been killed a day earlier, and five others wounded, as they tended to the booby trapped dead body of an insurgent.

“They use bodies as booby traps all the time,” said the Marine colonel, who spoke anonymously. “They wait until Marines are close, then they detonate themselves. From what I hear, the unit didn’t know those guys were supposed to be there.

“Those poor kids -- they’re on duty day in and day out, and have to deal with corpses and wounded guys that are booby trapped -- the insurgents do this all the time. We had incidents where they detonated themselves either in a car full of explosives or with suicide belts,” said the colonel.

Iraqis Alert for Booby-trapped Bodies in Fallujah Gagging amid the overpowering stench of rotting flesh, the Iraqis had to take special care because of the danger that insurgents booby-trapped some bodies with explosives. On one stoop, the Iraqis pushed over a corpse and a grenade rolled out of its pocket. The weapon didn't detonate, but Marines quickly hurried the workers away.
Few Prisoners on Iwo Jima Out of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, only 212 were taken prisoners.
Picture of a War Criminal? "There were 13 scouts in our outfit, 11 were killed, 1 was wounded and the other was YOURS TRULY. I was lead scout looking for the Goettge Patrol, we went up the Minitakau River, water up to our chests. We were a rifle platoon, we found the patrol, bodies all cut up. After this, 'no prisoners' was an unspoken agreement."
Lawrence Takes No Prisoners, excerpted from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom "The village lay stilly under its slow wreaths of white smoke, as we rode near, on our guard. Some grey heaps seemed to hide in the long grass, embracing the ground in the close way of corpses. We looked away from these, knowing they were dead; but from one a little figure tottered off, as if to escape us. It was a child, three or four years old, whose dirty smock was stained red over one shoulder and side, with blood from a large half-fibrous wound, perhaps a lance thrust, just where neck and body joined.

The child ran a few steps, then stood and cried to us in a tone of astonishing strength (all else being very silent), 'Don't hit me, Baba.' Abd el Aziz, choking out something - this was his village, and she might be of his family - flung himself off his camel, and stumbled, kneeling, in the grass beside the child. His suddenness frightened her, for she threw up her arms and tried to scream; but, instead, dropped in a little heap, while the blood rushed out again over her clothes; then, I think, she died.

We rode past the other bodies of men and women and four more dead babies, looking very soiled in the daylight, towards the village; whose loneliness we now knew meant death and horror. By the outskirts were low mud walls, sheepfolds, and on one something red and white. I looked close and saw the body of a woman folded across it, bottom upwards, nailed there by a saw bayonet whose haft stuck hideously into the air from between her naked legs. About her lay others, perhaps twenty in all, variously killed.

The Zaagi burst into wild peals of laughter, the more desolate for the warm sunshine and clear air of this upland afternoon. I said, 'The best of you bring me the most Turkish dead,' and we turned after the fading enemy, on our way shooting down those who had fallen out by the roadside and came imploring our pity. One wounded Turk, half naked, not able to stand, sat and wept to us. Abdulla turned away his camel's head, but the Zaagi, with curses, crossed his track and whipped three bullets from his automatic through the man's bare chest. The blood came out with his heart beats, throb, throb, throb, slower and slower.

Tallal had seen what we had seen. He gave one moan like a hurt animal; then rode to the upper ground and sat there a while on his mare, shivering and looking fixedly after the Turks. I moved near to speak to him, but Auda caught my rein and stayed me. Very slowly Tallal drew his headcloth about his face; and then he seemed suddenly to take hold of himself, for he dashed his stirrups into the mare's flanks and galloped headlong, bending low and swaying in the saddle, right at the main body of the enemy.

It was a long ride down a gentle slope and across a hollow. We sat there like stone while he rushed forward, the drumming of his hoofs unnaturally loud in our ears, for we had stopped shooting, and the Turks had stopped. Both armies waited for him; and he rocked on in the hushed evening till only a few lengths from the enemy. Then he sat up in the saddle and cried his war cry, 'Tallal, Tallal,' twice in a tremendous shout. Instantly their rifles and machine-guns crashed out, and he and his mare riddled through and through with bullets, fell dead among the lance points.

Auda looked very cold and grim. 'God give him mercy; we will take his price.' He shook his rein and moved slowly after the enemy. We called up the peasants, now drunk with fear and blood, and sent them from this side and that against the retreating column. The old lion of battle waked in Auda's heart, and made him again our natural, inevitable leader. By a skilful turn he drove the Turks into bad ground and split their formation into three parts.

The third part, the smallest, was mostly made up of German and Austrian machine-gunners grouped round three motor cars and a handful of mounted officers or troopers. They fought magnificently and repulsed us time and again despite our hardiness. The Arabs were fighting like devils, the sweat blurring their eyes, dust parching their throats; while the flame of cruelty and revenge which was burning in their bodies so twisted them that their hands could hardly shoot. By my order we took no prisoners, for the only time in our war.'"

Although battlefield ethics are not always simple, people intuitively understand that not all behavior is lawful. The Boston Globe describes this incident in Fallujah and most readers will agree that a war crime had been prevented, yet what distinguishes it from the shooting of a wounded enemy combatant in a mosque is hard to encompass in so many words.

Salehma Mahmoud, 43, and her four daughters fled Fallujah on Tuesday after her husband was killed fighting against the Americans. They walked 4 miles only to be confronted by Iraqi soldiers who insulted and harassed them, grabbing at Mahmoud's oldest daughter. "He grabbed Fatima's hand and tried to kiss her. I was trying to stop him with all I had," she said. "He beat me and pushed me to the ground, and his friends were laughing at us loud. He tore the right sleeve of my daughter's dress and lay her on the ground."

To Mahmoud's surprise -- because she had been told that US troops would beat and rape her -- a US patrol rescued them. An American soldier pulled the Iraqi soldier away and yelled at him. Mahmoud's daughter, who speaks some English, told her that the American called the Iraqi names and said, "If you had really come to save the people of this city, you would not have done such a thing."