The Corner

The Geneva Convention

I’ve gotten sooo many emails like this in response to my syndicated column. There are good points (though many emails contradict each other) and they’re mostly given as constructive criticism in good faith. But what I particularly enjoy is the criticism that my column was too simplistic — it probably was — and that I should have included 75 trillion ifs, ands, buts and the like — all with corresponding sub clauses and whatnots. For example:


While your ultimate conclusion on the applicability of the Geneva Convestion(s) to Al Quaeda is correct, the reasoning you set out is a little simplistic, and glosses over a couple of salient points. Since your readers are a sophisticated lot, it might be worth addiind a little more detail. As you pointed out in your syndicated column, Al Quaeda is not a nation state, and is not a party to the Geneva Convention, or any other treaty. However, under the terms of the Third Geneva Convention, that is not necessarily a bar to granting combatants “status” under the convention. Article 4, Section A2 provides that:

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.

Now, one could argue that Al Quaeda, through its affiliation with Taliban is in fact a legitimate resistance movement (not in terms of its goals, but rather its status under the Conventions) in Afghanistan. As such. if they fulfill the above-stated requirements, then Al Quaeda prisonsers captured in the course of combat in Iraq would be entitled to POW status. The same argument could be made for the Baathist dead enders in Iraq. This provisiosn is designed to protect members of resistance movements, provided that they follow the laws of war. As good conservatives, we should remember that in some cases these potential resistors are our friends.

So, our examination turns to subclauses (a) through (d),above: (a) is kind of murky, and hard to judge; (b) might be fulfilled by various pyjama-like garments; and (c) is probably fulfilled in Afghanistam (of course, everyone carries arms in that country, so no big deal). Subclause (d) is far and away the most important, and it’s here that Al Queada and its ilk lose any claim to POW status. Al Quaeda violates almost all the laws and customs of war, almost as a matter of policy – from cutting the throats of non-combatant hostages (far more serious under international law than the still serious abuse of combatants) to stashing weapons in protected places (mosques and hospitals) Al Queada fails this test rather soundly. Sublcause (d) is the most important because it enshrines the notion of reciprocity – the idea that we’ll do unto you as you do unto us (so let’s both act humanely) and this is the main reason why Al Quaeda (and Taliban, Baathists, Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah etc.) members are not entitled to POW status. The treaty is a two way street, and if they are allowed to benefit, the reciprocal nature of the Conventions will be trashed – and this reciprocity is the primary means of enforcement. Without it, the Conventions will become totally useless, instead of merely inapplicable as they are now.

Anyway, that’s the long answer – as I said at the outset, your conclusion is correct, but its worth doing a full analysis so that some lefty whiner can’t point to Article 4 in triumph to “prove” that you’re wrong.


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