Politics & Policy

Prisoners of Evil


We should know, from the last Gulf War, how the Iraqis treat prisoners of war. Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher, shot down on the first day of the first Gulf War — is presently listed as MIA. He may still be alive in Iraq, rumored to have been kept as a personal torture toy for Saddam’s older son. The members of maybe the unluckiest squad in the history of the British SAS — known as “Bravo Two-Zero” — were beaten, tortured, and some were murdered after they were captured. Treatment of American prisoners was no different. One captured Army helo pilot was a major, and a woman. According to the reports I remember receiving then, she was beaten and raped repeatedly.

The morning began with a pseudo-comical display of Iraqi marksmanship, dozens of them shooting into the Tigris River on the outskirts of Baghdad, supposedly searching for a downed American pilot. Then they set the river grass on fire, to burn out those hiding there. No one came out. My first thought was that we had another Bravo Two Zero, some unlucky special ops troops who had been cornered. But if there were, they would have either been shooting back, or would have already bogeyed out of there, swimming downriver.

By noon, we were hearing the al-Jazeera reports of captured Americans. The Pentagon is reporting that some maintenance troops are missing, and may have been captured. Al-Jazeera, the pro-terrorist TV station in Qatar, was broadcasting a film that showed Americans being intimidated in a televised interrogation. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Worse, one report said that the film also showed the bodies of several American troops, exposing wounds consistent with execution, not battle. I haven’t seen that film. Al-Jazeera has apparently stopped showing it at the request of our Defense Department.

We need to put a stop to what the Iraqis are doing. The president and Mr. Rumsfeld have already condemned the Iraqis’ behavior and called it what it is: a violation of the law of war, a crime under the Geneva Conventions. They need to take it one step further.

The president or Mr. Rumsfeld should announce that the Coalition nations — not the International Criminal Court, another toy of the European Union — will hold war-crimes trials of any Iraqis who abuse our people in any way. And then he needs to describe in detail — in a message to our troops — just what we know is going on. They’ll take it from there. We must — and will — observe the Geneva Conventions. But in combat, there will be split-second decisions our soldiers will have to make on whether to take an Iraqi prisoner, or whether he’s still fighting and must be killed. Right now, we’re probably giving them the benefit of the doubt. That may change quickly once the word gets out.

If we determine that any American prisoners — from this or the First Gulf War — have been tortured or killed by the Iraqis, we should try all the surviving members of Saddam’s barbaric regime for war crimes, for capital offenses. Let there be no doubt in places such as Syria, Iran, Lebanon and, yes, Saudi Arabia: we will not tolerate support for terrorism, and we will impose capital punishment for the war crimes of beatings, torture, and murder of prisoners.

01:39 PM

MAR. 23, 2003: OUTRAGE

This is a war, not a cakewalk. People are killing and being killed, and there will be more dead on both sides. Saddam’s regime will do anything to survive, and that includes breaking every rule of civilized war. Yes, there are such things. They were drafted carefully, by people who knew that war — by definition the most uncivilized activity — will happen no matter what Martin Sheen or Danny Glover wants. The nations of the civilized world have made some things beyond the pale. Executing prisoners. Torture, beatings, and intentionally endangering — and causing the deaths — of civilians. All of those things are prohibited under sections 3 and 13 of the Geneva conventions, and all of those things amount to Saddam’s strategy to survive the Second Gulf War. We can talk about chemical weapons later, now that the 3rd Infantry has found one of Saddam’s main factories for producing them, all eighty buried acres of it.

If we had any notion that our enemy in this war were civilized, it was dispelled thoroughly today. One of my best sources confirms that one of the films showed today on Al-Jazeera and on Iraqi television displayed the bodies of dead marines. Several of the dead had been executed, not killed in action. They had been shot squarely in the forehead. Our Defense Department was trying to play this down until the families were notified, but too many television stations in the arab world were showing the video, some praising the Iraqi “victory”.

Near Nasiriyah yesterday, a group of Iraqis pretended to be following American instructions to surrender. When Marines approached to let them surrender, and reached a point that had been registered by Iraqi artillery, the big guns opened fire and about ten Marines were killed. In the Sunday CENTCOM briefing, Gen. John Abizaid — Tommy Franks’s deputy commander — confirmed the faked surrender and also said that some Iraqis were fighting while wearing civilian clothes, and when mounted on modified civilian vehicles. This was the tactic of the Taliban, and made them illegal combatants under the Law of War. The same is true for the Iraqis.

There are many things we have to do now. First is to revise the Rules of Engagement to protect our troops from the fake surrender ruse. We can’t be Shermanesque about it, but we have to change our approach to warring with barbarians. Sherman — an Indian fighter after the Civil War — was asked how he could tell a good Indian from a bad one. In a line quoted much less often than his “If nominated I shall not run” line, Sherman said, “kill ‘em all and let God sort them out.” We — the good guys — can’t refuse to take prisoners. It’s another one of those differences between Us and Them. But we do need to change the way we do it.

One way to do this is that when any significant number of Iraqis indicate they want to surrender, they should be covered by aircraft orbiting out of shoulder-fired missile range. If any of the Iraqis — or any other group lying in wait — start shooting at our guys, all of them should be killed, even if they try to surrender when we start shooting. All of them.

Second, we have to make it clear to all that we will do this. There’s an outside chance that it will stop some Iraqis from trying it. Implementing this change will also strengthen, not weaken, the discipline of our troops. Normal people, they will want to take revenge, and won’t want to take prisoners once the word of this gets around. But we can change the equation to our advantage.

Third, we need to condemn the Iraqis and do so long, hard, and continuously. The murders of our troops should be shouted from the rooftops, and on the front page of every newspaper. You may rest assured that we will speak of it on the Oliver North radio show tomorrow. The people who committed these murders must be hunted down like the vermin they are and exterminated.

The Iraqis don’t understand that these crimes won’t lessen our resolve, but stiffen it. They will discover that too late. The world — especially the arab world — needs to hear our outrage, and the outrage of all the civilized world. Every nation that pretends to calls us “friend” must have its head of state condemn these acts and everyone who committed them. Those who don’t should feel our political wrath, and perhaps more.

10:01 PM


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