22 Sep 2006

Interpreting the Convention

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Winchester Model 1897 trench gun

The Bush Administration has been widely criticized for the allegedly unprecedented policy of interpreting the definitions of portions of the Geneva Conventions. And Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner recently waged a very public battle in the Senate specifically to ensure “that there be no attempt to redefine U.S. obligations.”

Bush Administration opponents are mistaken. There is a very prominent case of the United States refusing to accept the definition of treaty terms used by the enemy, and openly defying world opinion.

In WWI, the US military issued Winchester Model 1897 slide-action shotguns to US troops, along with buckshot-loaded cartridges. Each 12 gauge round contained nine size 00 buckshot. The shotguns featured a bayonet lug, and a perforated metal cover to protect the hand from the barrel becoming over-heated by rapid fire.

The shotguns were found to be desirable weapons, very useful for clearing trenches and in close combat. They were particularly popular with the Marines, who put them to conspicuously good use in Belleau Wood.

Germany, in 1918, protested US use of shotguns firing multiple projectile buckshot ammunition as a violation of Section II of the 1907 Hague Convention (the Geneva Convention’s predecessor treaty), which forbade belligerents to employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.

But, as W. Hays Parks, Special Assistant for Law of War Matters, Office of The Judge Advocate General, U.S. Army, notes in a 1997 paper, DA-PAM 27-50-299, the United States interpreted the Hague Treaty differently, rejecting the German protest.

The highly-effective use of the shotgun by United States forces had a telling effect on the morale of front-line German troops. On 19 September 1918, the German government issued a diplomatic protest against the American use of shotguns, alleging that the shotgun was prohibited by the law of war.

After careful consideration and review of the applicable law by The Judge Advocate General of the Army, Secretary of State Robert Lansing rejected the German protest in a formal note.

Threats to punish captured American soldiers found armed with shotguns met the stern US warning that any unjustified measures taken against US prisoners of war would be retaliated in equal measure upon captured Germans.

The reality is that international agreements of this kind invariably include substantial quantities of broad and unspecific statement, inevitably requiring interpretation. Someone has to decide whether 00 buckshot constitutes the kind of projectile “calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” Someone has to decide today whether keeping someone in a cold room, or subjecting someone to “water-boarding,” constitutes torture.

What is remarkable is that, in the old days, Germany would argue for definitions which were in Germany’s interest, and United States officials would argue for interpretations which were in the interest of the United States. Today, our leading media outlets, a substantial portion of the body of active participants in policy debate, the former Secretary of State, and even three prominent Republican senators are found shouting their heads off in the public square, demanding that the United States adopt interpretations as inconvenient to US interests as possible.

Some of us find all this more than a little grotesque.

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Back in 1918, when Winchester Model 1897 slide-action shotguns were issued to the US military, another set of belligerents called the weapon a “violation of Section II of the 1907 Hague Convention (the Geneva Convention’s predecessor treaty), which …



Rodney A Stanton

As a former Fifth Marine ( the infamous Dougs from Hell, Teufel Hunden) I would have wanted one of thes to use on the Huns in a trench. Particularly considering they out numbered us 9:21 before the batle started and still almost 4:1 when the ran away.
The English have a saying which I think fits here “*ALL* is fair in love and war.”
As for world opinion I agree with Dennis Prager. It is useless and worthless. F*** world opinion, it has not helped America in over 180 years.

an old exJarhead



Jo macDougal

As a kid from SoCal (pasadesn) said 62 years ago “… the purpose of war is not to give your life for your country but to make the other s o b give his life for his country!…” SoCal warriors have got it right for over 150 years.
War is not a tennis match!



Adam P Bergen

The only “fair” fight is the fight you win.

Allowing an enemy the slightest advantage does nothing but cause more pain and suffering to your own forces than necessary-a clear violation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions if held to true interpretation. That is not to say the humanity is lost on an American soldier, that it why he fights. That is why, when it comes to the fight, we delivery with ferocity and efficiency. At least it once was. It is unfortunate that the lessons of previous wars seem lost on the present leadership of this nation. God help the Marines and all our Armed Forces to clean up after messy politicians in order save our country. It is sad that the burden must fall upon the best of our stock so politicians like Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner can have something to whine about. Pick up a rifle and meet the enemy, then you will understand why our laws are little more then idyllic scraps of paper not even suitable for cleansing one self. McCain should know. How did those laws benefit him?

The American authorities of 1918 were wise to pursue mutual deterrence as means of protecting our troops. The continual adherence to the Geneva Convention during this war rewarded our soldiers with scenes of their brethren being dragged through the streets of Iraq then brutally mutilated (see recent headlines of the Mujahedeen Shura Council video unleashed across the net).

In war, as in all aspects of society, there exist two groups, the innovative and the deceased. Dead civilizations hold only a passing curiosity for the living-unless the curiosity stems from the reflections of its demise. The fortitude of those Devil Dogs who fought in Belleau Wood is what will ensure our role in this world as curator of that museum rather than a dusty artifact looked upon with passing curiosity.



Mike H.

With all due respect to Sen. McCain, I think that his stand, against the administration, will bite him in the posterior.

He had designs on the presidency at one time.

An old former Juggy



Dave

Sure, define waterboarding or thumbscrews as “not really torture” but don’t piss and whine when it’s used to torture captured american soldiers. Remember. If some other country does it it’s “torture”. When the good old US of A does it it’s “freedom tickling”.
All’s fair in love and war.



JDZ

1) Nobody said thumbscrews aren’t torture. That is illegitimate hyperbole.

2) US soldiers who’ve gone to SERE school have already been waterboarded in training. Can any technique usable in training really constitute torture?

3) Your argument is a bad argument.

Al Qaeda has repeatedly murdered US prisoners. They don’t observe any rules of war or any international conventions.
The correct form of deterrence, in their kind of case, is to take no prisoners except as needed for interrogation.

In the case of treaty signatories, if the US Government believes that it has injured or mistreated US prisoners, we are able to protest, and if our protests are ignored, to inflict the same or greater misfortune on an equal number of their prisoners in our hands selected by lot. That’s how civilized nations have always enforced symmetrical good behavior.



Dave

“Nobody said thumbscrews aren’t torture. That is illegitimate hyperbole.”
Give it time.
Your allies, yes allies, not enemies are refusing to extradite prisioners to the US on the basis that other civilised countries call what you do torture.
But your country right or wrong, you’ve got to support it!

“Can any technique usable in training really constitute torture?”
Well if it’s training on how to resist torture then yes. yes it can.

“Your argument is a bad argument.”
Wow, I was dealing with your points up till now but this just caught me off guard! Your debating skills are just too much for me!

“Al Qaeda has repeatedly murdered US prisoners. They don’t observe any rules of war or any international conventions.”

Al Qaeda is not a country,state or government. People who get grabbed are not citizens of Al Qaeda and unless the US intelligence services are much better at their jobs than their past performance indicates then most of the people who get grabbed aren’t even members of Al Qaeda. What the US does is torture people suspected of being members. The few times the “evidence” has seen a court it’s been thrown out as hearsay and a joke!

What you are doing is grabbing citizens of other countries and imprisoning them without trial then torturing them. It doesn’t matter if you think drowning someone isn’t torture because most of the civilised world thinks it is and like in mental asylums it isn’t what you think that matters.

“The correct form of deterrence, in their kind of case, is to take no prisoners except as needed for interrogation.”

Well it isn’t working very well. Al Qaeda has more members than it did before 9/11, some reports claim it has so many people wanting to join that they can pick and choose. You see the problem is that whenever America does something vile another few thousand young men flock join them, whenever they get mentioned in the news as “the biggest threat to america” or some even more such people who are angry at america for good or bad reasons flock to join them on the basis that they’re an organisation which actually has america running scared. Terrorist groups aren’t like companies, there’s no CEO, no president, kill 90% of them and the surviving 10% just gather more followers. Hell if you killed every last one there would just be an Al Qaeda MK2 around within a few weeks with new people and if you caused much collateral damage while killing the last crowd then you’d find yourself facing twice as many enemies.

What is it about some people that this isn’t blindingly obvious to them?



JDZ

Remarkable asymmetry, isn’t there?

Terrorists can attack unarmed civilians, kidnap and murder, and bear arms against US forces in the field omitting uniforms and other forms of identification as combatants, but they are to be considered entitled to all the privileges of a citizen of a Western democracy charged with a domestic offense, including presumption of innocence, representation, and civilian legal immunities and processes.

Your expectation, of course, flies directly in the face of traditional military practice. Persons captured bearing arms in violation of the customs and usages of war, i.e. murdering non-combatants, practicing perfidy, fighting out-of uniform, have always in the past been executed immediately after a drumhead courtmartial.

And, in the world view of liberals like yourself, so potent and efficacious is the resentment of any Third World primitives that no measures to punish their massacres and atrocities can possibly be effective, since any action by the US is intrinsically vile, and certain to cause thousands of more newly angered jihadis to sprout from the ground to avenge their fallen predecessors.

What a load of crap!

US military forces were quite able to kill adequate numbers of angry primitives during the Indian Wars, the Philippine Insurrection, and the numerous US interventions to restore order in Latin America to defeat all those insurgencies long ago using less advanced weapon systems, and many of the Indians we defeated were a lot braver and better men than the jihadis of today, and had a lot more justice on their side.



Dave

“Remarkable asymmetry, isn’t there?”

Absolutlely because the sides are asymmetric. On one side is a large well organised nation, on the other side is a vaguely associated group mixed in with vast numbers unassociated people. It would be like responsing to a gang attacking the police by firebombing a district of LA.

” but they are to be considered entitled to all the privileges of a citizen of a Western democracy charged with a domestic offense”
God no, but they are entitled to rights granted under the UDoHR. You don’t have to be american for that to apply to you. Unless you’re some kind of freak who quietly believes that only americans are really human.

“fighting out-of uniform, have always in the past been executed immediately after a drumhead courtmartial.”

Only these guys don’t even get the courtmartial and most are not picked up on a battlefield but rather picked up under the “sell your neighbour to us” schemes where cash is offered for tipoffs on who you believe is a terrorist in your neighbourhood (or whoever you simply don’t like)

“no measures to punish their massacres and atrocities can possibly be effective, since any action by the US is intrinsically vile, and certain to cause thousands of more newly angered jihadis to sprout from the ground to avenge their fallen predecessors.”
Oh you can simply genocide the lot, wipe every non american from the face of the earth or enough of them that there’s not enough left to fight you, worked pretty well with some of the indian tribes.
But there is a problem with the way american troops are trained to act, I’m not entirely sure what it is but they have a way of pissing off the locals that the militaries of other western countries manage to avoid to the same extent.
I’m trying to find a clip made one of those embeded reporters from afganistan. British troops drive into a town, fairly relaxed, routine patrol or some such, chatting to the locals,

“how’s everyone doing?
how are you doing for supplies?
seen anything that could be useful to us?”

that kind of thing. Then some american soldiers arrive, handbreak stop in the middle of town, come charging out acting like teenagers who’ve seen too many movies, shouting and running around. The british officer grabs one of them, pulls him aside and basicly says

“what the hell are you guys doing!
there’s no situation here, but there will be if you don’t get your act together and stop making these people think they’re about to be shot at! ”

If all US soldiers are as poorly trained as those guys as to how to deal with the locals then it’s absolutely no surprise that American troops manage to piss people off everywhere they go.

“What a load of crap!”

just like your argument then.

“US military forces were quite able to kill adequate numbers of angry primitives during the Indian Wars, the Philippine Insurrection, and the numerous US interventions to restore order in Latin America to defeat all those insurgencies long ago using less advanced weapon systems, and many of the Indians we defeated were a lot braver and better men than the jihadis of today, and had a lot more justice on their side.”

I’m sure you’ve very proud of that but in those days there wasn’t any internet and there were a lot less people. Now a video of soldiers having village children fight for their ammusement ends up being seen by millions of people. Today there’s billions of people out there and they can have kids faster than you can shoot them.



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