The Shotgun Blog
Sunday, December 05, 2004
International Red Cross - Neutral No More?
Via Junkyard Blog this Wall Street Journal explanation as to what POW status and the Geneva Convention really mean. As opposed to the cherished misbelief in the media and elsewhere, any protective status that prisoners and combatants have in war, capture or interrogation is established by their actions and conduct. Break the rules, and the best you can hope for is that your captors will be inclined towards giving you the benefit of the doubt.
But there is no good excuse for the recent accusations against US forces by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which should be perfectly aware of how these things work.
The basic idea behind granting POW status is that soldiers who surrender or are captured are not to be punished so long as they have behaved according to certain rules -- such as fighting in uniform and doing their best to direct their own attacks at enemy soldiers rather than civilians. Part of their protection from punishment is that they not be subject to coercive interrogation; they are required only to give name, rank and serial number. They may, however, be held for the duration of the conflict so that they do not return to the battlefield.
The POW concept is certainly a great humanitarian advance, since the slaughter of captured enemies used to be routine and since it provides some incentive to fair battlefield conduct. But it is a concept in jeopardy thanks to its ostensible guardians at the ICRC. By demanding POW status for un-uniformed combatants who target civilians -- in contravention of the plain language of the Geneva Conventions -- the ICRC started the fight over Guantanamo by attempting to remove one of the few carrots we have to encourage humane behavior in war.
Now it goes further and demands that these combatants get even more privileges than legitimate POWs. Has it occurred to no one in Geneva that indefinite detention can't possibly be "tantamount to torture" for illegal combatants if it is the expected course of events for real POWs? The prospect of Guantanamo detainees returning to the battlefield is real, and more than two dozen of those already released have done so.
The ICRC also objects to interrogation pressure that is typically no more abusive than the good cop-bad cop routines common in American police stations. And where the interrogation techniques go further, they include nothing worse than loud music, temperature extremes, and uncomfortable positions. To call such discomforts "a form of torture" is to rob the word of all meaning and implicitly elevate the behavior of truly odious regimes.
Finally, from the damned-if-you-do file, we have the ICRC complaining that U.S. doctors took the care to examine the detainees' health to determine if particular stress techniques might be too much for a given individual. This is alleged somehow to be a violation of "medical ethics" rather than the example of American humanity that it actually is.
If the ICRC accusations sound more like political maneuvering than legitimate concern, there's a reason. B. Preston:
One source of tension between the US and the ICRC concerns Protocol 1, a 1970s attempt to revise the Geneva Conventions. The US (along with several of our strongest allies) has explicitly rejected Protocol 1 because it includes non-state actors (i.e. terrorists) under Geneva's protections. That would effectively grant protections to terrorists that they will never grant any of their hostages and would also keep us from gaining any useful intelligence from detained combatants. That intelligence saves lives and weakens the terrorists. It shortens the war, in our favor.
At least part of the intention of the ICRC's Gitmo report appears to be an attempt to force the US to ratify Protocol 1 by default, by pressuring us into granting the terrorists at Gitmo Protocol 1 status.
If the politically motivated left continues to infect once invaluable and respected NGO's like the Red Cross, their legitimacy and usefulness will come to a crashing end. It is one thing for political organizations like the UN to play both sides against the middle, or push for advantage in international politicss - the organization is comprised of openly poliitical entities.
The Red Cross's one true strength has been a long-established and respected reputation for neutrality during world conflicts. Should the powers at the CRC of today choose to squander this neutral stance to score a few self-satisfying hits in the cause of anti-Americanism, this once hallowed organization risks not only the lives of their workers on the ground, but their very reason for being.
The modern reality for the Red Cross is that terrorist groups tend not to care about noble concepts like neutrality unless there is some advantage to be realized. If the Red Cross thinks it is buying some insurance by advocating for illegal combatants in a manner that should be reserved for legitimate soldiers, they can expect to be disappointed.
If they can't stand the heat of operating in kitchens in which one side does not recognize ICRC neutrality, they need to get out - not advocate for terrorism in the hopes that they can restore their "offlimits" status on the battlefield.
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Seems to me the Red Cross is just trying to get a little job security. Has there been a single war of note between uniformed combatants, anywhere in the world, since Desert Storm in 1990?
If they don't figure out a way to stick their noses into the War on Terror, they'll have to go get real jobs.
Posted by: Justzumgai | 2004-12-05 6:28:29 PM
David Brock's "Media Matters for America" comments on the Wall Street Journal editorial, claiming that it's distorting the ICRC report.
"The Journal editorial also falsely claimed that the ICRC is 'demanding POW status for un-uniformed combatants who target civilians.' In fact, the ICRC made clear in a 2003 report titled 'The legal situation of "unlawful/unprivileged combatants"' that the group acknowledges a distinction between POWs and unlawful combatants and does not demand POW status for detainees captured in Afghanistan. Rather, the ICRC asserts that while these detainees may not be POWs as defined by the Third Geneva Convention ('Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War'), they still deserve more limited protections under the Fourth Geneva Convention ('Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War') and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions."
MMA also notes that the ICRC report does _not_ assert that indefinite detention is "tantamount to torture":
"According to the Times, the ICRC report claimed that 'the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.' Though the Times does indicate that the ICRC was also concerned about the effect of indefinite detention on the prisoners' mental health, it was the psychological and physical coercion, and not the indefinite detention, that the ICRC reportedly deemed 'tantamount to torture.'"
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-12-05 6:29:50 PM
Disclaimer: I've volunteered for the Canadian Red Cross in the past. Obviously, the comments I'm posting here reflect my personal opinion, not that of the Red Cross.
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-12-05 6:31:05 PM
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