April 02, 2004

Atrocity and Response

After the brutality of the killings in Fallujah recently, there have been many suggestions of how to handle the problem, from the harshly cold-blooded to the brutal and traditional to the calculated to the useless to the insane. Interestingly, none of them directly take on the culture of the area: it's a tribal culture.

I suggest that if we want effectively to make the point that you don't do this, while not at the same time pushing neutrals into the arms of the resistance, we can look back to how we handled the Mexican war in the 1850s. While we were marching on Mexico City, a number of attacks on the food gatherers of the Army were carried out by local "bandits". Winfield Scott pulled aside the local mayor, pointed out that law enforcement was his job and, as the "bandits" couldn't be found and fined, the fines for banditry would be charged to the mayor instead. The attacks stopped.

A similar approach could work in Fallujah and other tribal areas (and not just in Iraq):

The first attack carried out by locals in a given area, or by non-locals who were sheltered by locals, results in the destruction of the homes of the leaders of the tribes involved, and the destruction of the homes of any local inciters to violence (in Fallujah, that would be the local imams).

The second such attack results in the killing of the tribal leaders and those who incite violence.

The third such attack results in the house-by-house search of the whole area, with any houses containing arms or explosives, or sheltering fighters, destroyed.

The fourth such attack results in all the men aged, say, 15-45 in the area being imprisoned until the attacks stop. (Note: even if they're not guilty, they provide cover for the guilty. Once the men are all in custody, any men remaining in the area or just coming into it would stand out and be easy targets.)

And each step sees reductions in local control and increased presence by US troops. The idea is to make the punishment fall on those who can stop the attacks first, then on those who enable the attacks, then on those making the attacks.

If this is applied consistently, it won't take long until the local support for violence dries up - not profitable - or is eliminated. Once the local camoflage and logistics are gone, the area is no longer a threat to us. I guess that puts me in the "brutal and traditional" seat.

UPDATE: Steven Den Beste notes in the comments:

The problem with your plan is that it would violate the Geneva Accords. It would violate the prohibition against what I believe was termed "collective punishment".

Well, let this be a lesson to me. I try not to post when I am angry, and this post was made about 10 minutes after I first saw the images of what happened. I was furious.

It would be tempting to argue that the fourth convention (or was it one of the additional protocols signed later) does not apply to guerillas, but the truth is my position above was directed not at the guerillas but at their local support base among the civilian population.

It would also be tempting to argue that the convention is just in the way and should be ignored, but that would be hypocritical of me: I believe that similar actions would be wrong morally in, say, taking the assets of drug dealers without trial, so I cannot condone it here. What I was advocating would punish those not directly guilty of crimes, in order to make life more difficult for those who are guilty of crimes.

Clearly, my solution was therefore morally wrong, regardless of practical effect, and should not be implemented.

Posted by Jeff at April 2, 2004 04:28 PM | Link Cosmos

The problem with your plan is that it would violate the Geneva Accords. It would violate the prohibition against what I believe was termed "collective punishment".

Posted by: Steven Den Beste on April 2, 2004 05:56 PM

No, Steven, it would NOT violate the Geneva Conventions. The tribal leaders have real authority in Iraq. Those attacks cannot occur without at the very least their consent. So Article 5 of the 4th Geneva Convention kicks in:

Art. 5 Where in the territory of a Party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State.

Posted by: Mr Pol on April 3, 2004 10:57 AM

Actually, I think Steven is correct. While "not being combatants" doesn't necessarily protect the tribal leaders, it is certainly possible for some to be involved and others not. At the very least, we would have to give them trials before we could take action against them, in order to determine whether or not they were culpable. If so, then they could be killed.

Posted by: Jeff on April 3, 2004 12:03 PM

Jeff, I'm impressed that you would take back a post upon Steven's criticism. That was a remarkable thing to do, and very gentlemanly. Good show.

Posted by: Jonathon on April 5, 2004 11:15 PM
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