Watch out, war criminals, Amnesty International was trying this week to get former president George W. Bush arrested by such impeccable democracies as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia for war crimes against terrorists, and soon the International Red Cross may be coming after you for laying down that land mine in Call of Duty.
One of the world’s largest and most respected humanitarian groups in the world is investigating whether the Geneva and Hague conventions should be applied to the fictional recreation of war in video games.
If they agree those standards should be applied, the International Committee of the Red Cross says they may ask developers to adhere to the rules themselves or “encourage” governments to adopt laws to regulate the video game industry.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is mandated under the Geneva Conventions to protect the victims of international and internal armed conflicts. That includes war wounded, prisoners, refugees, civilians, and other non-combatants. The question they debated this week is whether their mandate should be extended to the virtual victims of video game wars.
During this week’s 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland, members of the committee held a side event to discuss the influence video games have on public perception and action.
“While the Movement works vigorously to promote international humanitarian law worldwide, there is also an audience of approximately 600 million gamers who may be virtually violating IHL,” according to the event’s description. “Exactly how video games influence individuals is a hotly debated topic, but for the first time, Movement partners discussed our role and responsibility to take action against violations of IHL in video games. In a side event, participants were asked: ‘What should we do, and what is the most effective method?’
“While National Societies shared their experiences and opinions, there is clearly no simple answer. There is, however, an overall consensus and motivation to take action.”
The International Red Cross made this video to document war crimes against imaginary electronic entities (IEEs).
It makes perfect sense. If Geneva Convention protections can be extended on a completely non-reciprocal basis to terrorists and illegal combatants who routinely violate those conventions and all other laws and customs of war by a simple fiat and decree expressive of an international, entirely non-democratic and unrepresentative, consensus of self-appointed elite holier-than-thous, why shouldn’t entirely fictive and imaginary electronic entities not be entitled to receive the same kinds of rights and immunities from the same sources on the basis of similar reasoning and procedures?
The Navy Times reports that the Marine Corps will be issuing 5.56mm ammunition loaded with 62 gr. “SOST” (Special Operations Science and Technology) bullets, a version of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet invented by Jack Carter in 1985.
The Marine Corps is dropping its conventional 5.56mm ammunition in Afghanistan in favor of new deadlier, more accurate rifle rounds, and could field them at any time.
The open-tipped rounds until now have been available only to Special Operations Command troops. The first 200,000 5.56mm Special Operations Science and Technology rounds are already downrange with Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, said Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command. Commonly known as â€œSOSTâ€ rounds, they were legally cleared for Marine use by the Pentagon in late January, according to Navy Department documents obtained by Marine Corps Times.
SOCom developed the new rounds for use with the Special Operations Force Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR, which needed a more accurate bullet because its short barrel, at 13.8 inches, is less than an inch shorter than the M4 carbineâ€™s. Using an open-tip match round design common with some sniper ammunition, SOST rounds are designed to be â€œbarrier blind,â€ meaning they stay on target better than existing M855 rounds after penetrating windshields, car doors and other objects.
Compared to the M855, SOST rounds also stay on target longer in open air and have increased stopping power through â€œconsistent, rapid fragmentation which shortens the time required to cause incapacitation of enemy combatants,â€ according to Navy Department documents. At 62 grains, they weigh about the same as most NATO rounds, have a typical lead core with a solid copper shank and are considered a variation of Federal Cartridge Co.â€™s Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw round, which was developed for big-game hunting and is touted in a company news release for its ability to crush bone.
The Corps purchased a â€œcouple millionâ€ SOST rounds as part of a joint $6 million, 10.4-million-round buy in September â€” enough to last the service several months in Afghanistan, Brogan said. Navy Department documents say the Pentagon will launch a competition worth up to $400 million this spring for more SOST ammunition.
Since al Qaeda and the Taliban are not signatories to the Geneva Convention and because the United States never ratified Protocols I and II of 1977, a non-expansive interpretation of US obligations would permit the use of hollow point projectiles, but TBBC bullets are not actually hollow points.
It isn’t a hollow point. It is an Open-Tip Match round much like the M118LR. The jacket is drawn from the base (instead of the cheaper method of jacket drawn from the nose and an exposed lead base) to the tip of the bullet. The tiny little hole there is just a remnant from jacketing the bullet that way. It isn’t designed for expansion or calculated to cause unnecessary suffering, so it doesn’t violate the Hague conventions.
In fact, though TBBC bullets do expand, they expand and fragment less than partition bullets commonly used in hunting.
I would give the following paper by Amichai Cohen, International Law professor at Ono Academic College, Israel, a gentlemanly C.
Armed conflicts of this type have sometimes been termed â€œasymmetricalâ€ â€“- an adjective used principally with reference to the fact that the protagonists are a state, with all its might and force, and an organization with few heavy arms and a limited number of fighters. But such conflicts are also asymmetrical in a more complicated sense: they are fought between a state, in possession of sound reasons for following the laws of armed conflicts (LOAC) or international humanitarian law (IHL), and a high incentive and organizational obligation to do so, on the one hand, and on the other hand, an organization that almost never follows these rules and has very little incentive to do so.
States involved in these conflicts mostly attempt to follow, or are expected by the international community to follow, IHL as detailed in customary international law, in the Geneva Conventions, and in other sources of applicable international law. However, it has become increasingly difficult to abide by these laws, mainly because of the novel nature of the problems that constantly arise. This brief review will only deal with two of the most prominent of such problems:
The first is how to apply the rule forbidding indiscriminate attacks on a civilian population when the enemy deliberately operates from within that environment. Direct attacks against civilians are of course always forbidden. However, what are
the appropriate norms that a state should apply when the only possible way of fighting the enemy involves risking the lives of civilians whom the enemy is using for its own protection?
A second problem arises from the fact that non-state actors are not susceptible to the range of formal and informal sanction which may be used against states. Since international law is not policed effectively, non-state actors may readily assume
that their violations of the laws of war, including those mentioned above, will not be punished by law. For example, they may target civilians of the state actor in the knowledge that there exists very small chance that they will be punished for
doing so by any international judicial body. Consequently, while one side to the conflict behaves in accordance with IHL, the other considers itself to be free of the limitations imposed by these rules.
My criticism is that, although Professor Cohen does a workmanlike academic job of dividing alternative perspectives into models, his fundamental approach is fundamentally far too abstract, unempiric, and ahistoric.
Restricting consideration of the practical responses to terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and violations of the laws and customs of war to a small number of very recent, poorly handled examples which occurred under the leadership of democratic governments, which obviously failed satisfactorily to implement or articulate clear policies, was a fundamental mistake.
The world did not suddenly spring into existence in 1993. “Assymetrical warfare” and the cynical exploitation of the chivalrous instincts and humanitarian values of honorable and civilized armies by outlaws and barbarians has always been part of the human experience. Military commanders from Classical Antiquity down to WWII frequently dealt with decisive effect with the same problems without scandalizing posterity by cruelty and excesses.
Professor Cohen is too satisfied with the classification of perspectives into “models,” and too cautious and timid about identifying explicitly the major and important role played in the fraudulent framing of the issue as presented to the public by dishonest and ideologically biased humanitarian organizations and the media.
In the American Scholar, David Bosco traces the roots of today’s Geneva Conventions to “Lieber’s Code” adopted by the US Army during the American Civil War from a paper on the treatment of insurgents and guerillas by Francis Leiber (1798-1872) a professor at Columbia University.
Unfortunately, the prospects for another â€œLieber momentâ€ appear slim. Many American leaders feel estranged from recent developments in international humanitarian and criminal law. The bewildering network of international conventions, courts, and commissions that is so inspiring to activists often appears menacing to those officials responsible for security policy. The ICCâ€™s birth, for example, occasioned far more handwringing than applause in the Pentagon and the State Department. The pride Lieber felt about being part of the international effort at codification has all but dissipated in government circles.
This change of tone and tactics has much to do with the geometry of power. Lieberâ€™s United States was weak, divided, and struggling to assure foreign observers that it could contribute to the civilizing goals of international law. Todayâ€™s United States has unparalleled power, and the international law that once signified membership in a rarefied club now threatens to hinder its freedom of action. Lieber also operated in a simpler legal age. His code, we should not forget, was a unilateral declaration; it was not negotiated with the Confederacy, let alone the rest of the world. The prospect today of amending the international rules governing warfare via negotiations with dozens of countriesâ€”some of them hostileâ€”is daunting.
Yet the unwillingness to take up the task has had painful consequences. As the United States conducts its global campaign against terrorism, the Bush administration has often preferred to operate in the murky spaces between vague provisions of existing law. Bush officials have sometimes grumbled about the inadequacy of the existing framework but have proffered little to take its place. The effect on American legitimacy and reputation has been grievous; many foreigners, including close allies, have concluded that the worldâ€™s superpower now operates outside the law.
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.