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Chris Metcalf

specialization is for insects

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With the recent shooting of an injured insurgent in Iraq by an American marine, the usual shouts of American war crimes are returning to the media. And if it is true that the insurgent really was injured, and really was unarmed, and really was a prisoner of war, then what he did was very wrong and he should be punished as such.

However, has anybody ever thought about judging our enemy by the same rules that we are judged?

I pulled the following from the handy website GenevaConventions.org, an indexed, plain-English guide to the Geneva Conventions:

  • The insurgents have been using mosques and other places of worship as a base of operations, and often launch attacks out of them. According to the Geneva Conventions, places of worship cannot be used as a base of military operatons.
  • One of the toughest problems our soldiers have been struggling with is differentiating civilians from combatants. The insurgents are operating from within the civilian population and are attempting to blend in to conceal themselves. Feigning civilian status is tantamount to false surrender, a prohibited action. At the very least, they would be acting as guerillas yet not openly displaying their arms, which is also forbidden.
  • While we're on the subject, insurgents have started luring American soldiers with false surrender and then attacking. This, of course, is also forbidden.
  • It is belived that many of the insurgents are actually foreign fighters being paid to come to Iraq and fight the Americans. In this case, they would be mercenaries, who, surprise surprise, are not allowed protection under the Genevea Conventions.
  • The day before the shooting of the injured insurgent, a soldier in the same unit was killed by a booby-trapped body of a dead insurgent. Under the Geneva Conventions, the dead are to be respected (i.e. not used as booby traps).
  • And the biggest, ugliest, nastiest Geneva Convention violation of all? The systematic slaughter of innocent civilians by the insurgents. A war crime, according to the conventions.

I’m not saying that this means we should ignore any war crimes committed by Americans. If we’re all going to follow the rules, we all need to stand up and admit that we are guilty if we really were wrong. Those individuals committing war crimes should be punished for their actions.

However, I feel that it is extremely important that if we are going to be judged by the rules of war, our enemy should be as well.