Dogs of War

November 2004


The Geneva Conventions have, for more than a hundred years, been the litmus test of war. Governments that upheld the conventions, and required that other nations respect them, were the good guys. Nations that violated them were incontestably evil. The United States has formerly been in the forefront of those "good guys" who supported these international conventions. However, in Afghanistan and Iraq we break them shamelessly.

The Geneva Conventions on war were first proposed and adopted in 1864 and were added to over time, reaching more or less their current form shortly before World War II. It was the Geneva Conventions that set forth the rules for the humane treatment of prisoners of war on both sides of that conflict. Our government has always been in the forefront of nations who championed these conventions. We have always derided governments that did not abide by them as being at least evil, if not certainly tyrannical.

Our own laws, both civil and military, call for the absolute adherence to these conventions, out of the same regard for humanity as our moral stance on many other issues. However, this changed in October of 2001, when our President declared that we did not hold ourselves bound by any treaty or accord signed with any foreign power.

We invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Shortly after arriving in each of these countries, we began to do some things that are flagrantly disobedient to the Geneva Conventions. For example, interning large numbers of civilians without due process, restricting the transmission of medical supplies to areas of the country where fighting was occurring, and other major infractions. In particular, our civil administration of Iraq under martial law was a flagrant offense against the Geneva Conventions, which is why we pushed, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, to "turn over" sovereignty and theoretical control of occupied areas to local civilian administration. Under the Geneva Conventions, it is permissible for your local government to do to you, at the behest of the occupying power, what is illegal for that occupying power to do to you directly.

Now we're classifying civilian hospitals as military targets. We're calling them military targets because they "disseminate intelligence" that compromises military objectives. What is meant by this is that in a previous campaign in the area, the doctors and nurses at some hospitals keep records of civilian and military casualties,And when members of the press asked them for this information, they provided it. There is no freedom of information act in Iraq. When our military kills several thousand civilians (by accident, one would hope), our officers feel that their military objectives are compromised if anybody finds out about it.

Quite apart from the duplicity of this kind of media management, the cordoning off of legitimate civilian medial facilities, -- in fact, the only medical facilities extant in the area -- the placing of them under military control and the denial of access to said facilities by indigenous civilians, is clearly illegal both by the Geneva Conventions and simple laws of human decency.

In Fallujah, prior to an attack, the US lead forces refused to let males, over the age of 14 and under the age of 60, leave the area. They had a term for this: limiting the egress of potential combatants. Not allowing refugees to leave an area soon to be under heavy bombardment is as heartless as it is illegal.

We Americans, both those who were or are in favor of the war in Iraq, and those who were or are against the war, have a stake in the legal and moral stance our government adopts in prosecuting a conflict. When we flagrantly flaunt our willingness to ignore international treaties and accords, such as the Geneva Conventions, then we put our own soldiers in peril. We put them in peril because some of them are guilty of atrocities against civilian populations, as the term is generally defined, and being guilty, they inspire the very worst of crimes to be committed against Americans, whether in Bagdad or Chicago. Other nations see this conduct and refuse to ally with us in future campaigns. Other nations see our disregard for international accords, conventions, and laws, and come to the conclusion that we are not true to our word.

We need America to be a beacon of hope, liberty, and democracy to the rest of the world. We cannot do this if we earn the reputation of being "rogue-at-will." It is always a temptation for soldiers in country to declare total war on their adversaries -- it's their friends, their brothers and sisters who die or are maimed every day. But it is the duty of our military and civilian leaders to oversee what they do and reign in these tendencies -- for they do us all a disservice and are a disgrace on our nation's honor. It is the responsibility of every good and decent citizen to let his or her government know that "victory at any price" is too great a price to pay for these United States.

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