Wanting to find out the truth about Iraqi civilian deaths

by Chris Bertram on November 1, 2004

I’m very glad that Daniel has taken on the job of addressing the statistical arguments around the Lancet study because, quite honestly, I’m not up to it (though I did spend part of yesterday trying to get impromptu tutorials from friends on concepts like “confidence interval”). Reading the text of the Lancet piece, I was struck by three points especially. First, they let us know exactly what they did, so that critics can address their claims. Yes, there’s a highly controversial headline figure which the Guardian and others seize upon, but what the study actually says is that they asked such-and such questions of suchand-such people, and extrapolation of the responses would generate such-and-such a number. Second, they notice a big difference between the numbers of people apparently shot by US troops (hardly any) and the numbers killed by aerial bombardments (lots). Third, they remark on the fact that the coalition forces have an obligation to find out for themselves how many civilians have been killed but have shown hardly any interest in doing so.

I’l like to say a little more on the second and third of these points. The use of air strikes in civilian areas forseeably results in increased civilian deaths. Going into a built-up area with troops to raid a (possibly booby-trapped) house used by insurgents exposes soldiers to greatly increased risk of death or serious injury; calling in an airstrike doesn’t. But we know from other theatres that such strikes often kill numbers of bystanders. The risk of the operation is transferred by deliberate and systematic policy from soldiers to bystanders. Such a policy runs contrary to traditional views about who should bear the risk of operations: we can’t insulate civilians completely but where there’s a choice soldiers both in virtue of the role they occupy and the fact (here) that they are volunteers should take on more exposure in order to protect civilians. It is hard to escape the thought that were co-nationals of the people dropping the bombs the ones in the bystander position, different methods would be used. Is the current policy illegal under the laws of war? Hard to say: its defenders are prone to invoke a tendentious and self-serving interpretation of double effect. Whether the policy constitutes a war crime or not, if it doesn’t then so much the worse for the laws of war (which ought to be changed).

The other issue the Lancet study draws attention to is how little interest the Coalition has shown in gathering accurate data. If the study is flawed, one would think that critics would show some humility and reflect on the fact that the researchers risked their lives to get the information. Unfortunately, the Coalition’s lack of interest in discovering the facts is shared by bloggers and other commentators who otherwise loudly proclaim their solidarity with the Iraqi people and write about “liberation” and the moral failings of the war’s critics.

It is worth quoting the final paragraph of the Lancet report:

US General Tommy Franks is widely quoted as saying “we don’t do body counts”. The Geneva Conventions have clear guidance about the responsibilities of occupying armies to the civilian population they control. The fact that more than half the deaths reportedly caused by the occupying forces were women and
children is cause for concern. In particular, Convention IV, Article 27 states that protected persons “. . . shall be at all times humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against acts of violence . . .”. It seems difficult to understand how a military force could monitor the extent to which civilians are protected against violence without systematically doing body counts or at least
looking at the kinds of casualties they induce. This survey shows that with modest funds, 4 weeks, and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure of civilian deaths could be obtained. There seems to be little excuse for occupying forces to not be able to provide more precise tallies. In view of the political importance of this conflict, these results should be confirmed by an independent body such as the ICRC, Epicentre, or WHO. In the interim, civility and enlightened self-interest demand a re-evaluation of the consequences of weaponry now used by coalition forces in populated areas.

{ 29 comments }

1

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.01.04 at 11:56 pm

Going into a built-up area with troops to raid a (possibly booby-trapped) house used by insurgents exposes soldiers to greatly increased risk of death or serious injury; calling in an airstrike doesn’t. But we know from other theatres that such strikes often kill numbers of bystanders. The risk of the operation is transferred by deliberate and systematic policy from soldiers to bystanders. Such a policy runs contrary to traditional views about who should bear the risk of operations: we can’t insulate civilians completely but where there’s a choice soldiers both in virtue of the role they occupy and the fact (here) that they are volunteers should take on more exposure in order to protect civilians. It is hard to escape the thought that were co-nationals of the people dropping the bombs the ones in the bystander position, different methods would be used. Is the current policy illegal under the laws of war? Hard to say: its defenders are prone to invoke a tendentious and self-serving interpretation of double effect. Whether the policy constitutes a war crime or not, if it doesn’t then so much the worse for the laws of war (which ought to be changed).”

And this is why the Geneva Conventions are very unfriendly to guerrilla warfare. This is why the Geneva Conventions try to make incentives to follow such important rules as wearing uniforms, having clear military targets, and not hiding out in civilian homes (which may or may not be booby-trapped). The Geneva Conventions were designed to provide incentives for forces to act in such a way as to allow combatants to discriminate between other combatants and non-combatants. They were designed this way because it was understood that if forced to fight an enemy who did not follow such rules, armies would be forced to attack in ways which were more likely to kill civilians. That is why the war crime falls to the army who hides behind civilians rather than the army that kills civilians trying to get to that army.

That is why these two sentences are so very wrong: “The risk of the operation is transferred by deliberate and systematic policy from soldiers to bystanders. Such a policy runs contrary to traditional views about who should bear the risk of operations: we can’t insulate civilians completely but where there’s a choice soldiers both in virtue of the role they occupy and the fact (here) that they are volunteers should take on more exposure in order to protect civilians.” That is not the traditional view at all. The traditional view is that soldiers should be identifiable so that the other side knows who to try to kill.

The risk is being shifted, but under traditional analysis, not at all as you have outlined. Under traditional analysis the risk has been shifted from the guerrilla forces (where it belongs) to the civilians they hide behind (where it does not belong) and that shift of risk has been brought about BY THE GUERRILLAS.

2

SS 11.01.04 at 11:58 pm

I thought the following erratum to the Tech Central piece critical of the Lancet study would be of interest. Here’s the link: http://www.techcentralstation.com/110104H.html
And here’s the erratum:

========================
Editor’s note: Tim Worstall’s piece on the Lancet study from last week resulted in a flood of criticism. We at TCS are letting the author correct the record here:

“Further to my article of Friday on this subject. I’m afraid I mangled the statistical argument. My inadequate knowledge of the subject led me to make an argument that is incorrect. I stand by my contention that there is something fishy about this study (leaving aside the politically motivated timing of its publication, something the author has been clear about himself) yet have to admit that I have not found it, leaving me with nothing but personal prejudice upon which to stand my argument. I would also like to make clear that this subject was not “assigned” to me, the idea, research, argument and errors were all my own, as was my request for this clarification. Just in case you are wondering, being fact checked by the Pajamahaddin and being found in error does hurt and I hope that future writings will be, where necessary, so corrected.”

3

Shannon Love 11.02.04 at 12:07 am

“they let us know exactly what they did, so that critics can address their claims.”

This is a bare minimum requirement for a scientific paper. To paraphrase Richard Feynman, scientific honesty is about more than telling the truth it is about bending over backwards. It is expected that scientist will include all possible sources of error in their work. If they don’t then the peer review should.

There are key points missing from the Lancet paper that I would have expected to see in similar papers in other context.

One, the number of reports of death actually backed by death certificates is not reported but merely the number of households that provided at least one death certificate. Why they did not provide this number is puzzling to say the least. Since self-reporting is one of this reports weak points I would have expected them to provide information about how many deaths were confirmed by secondary sources.

More troubling is their lack of commentary on the studies very odd results for pre-war infant mortality. The study shows a pre-war infant mortality rate of 29/1000 which is fantastically low based on all other sources including the ones referenced in the paper itself. (Unicef in 2002 had the Iraqi infant mortality rate at 102/1000)

In most other context a highly anomalous result would require explanation but this study’s authors just ignore it. I suspect they did so because the anomaly indicates their methodology may be fatally flawed.

This isn’t a transparent study.

4

Katherine 11.02.04 at 12:10 am

Forget whether it’s more our fault or the insurgents’ fault for a moment.

Unilateral wars of “liberation” will not work if we cannot avoid killing more civilians than the government we say we are liberating them from. We are already working at a disadvantage–no one likes foreigners invading, and Muslim countries especially don’t like the U.S. invading. If we compound that by killing more civilians than Saddam has (in the last five years or so), we will not succeed.

The success of a war of liberation depends on support from the community, which depends on low civilian casualties. Given that it was entirely foreseeable that there would be guerillas and terrorists opposing us, it depends on being able to separate the guerillas and terrorists from the civilian population. If we can’t do that, with the best of intentions, we’ll do more harm than good.

Even apart from any moral argument, the U.S. army needs to know how many civilian casualties it is inflicting, because it needs to minimize civilians casualties for strategic reasons.

5

Sebasitan Holsclaw 11.02.04 at 12:24 am

“The success of a war of liberation depends on support from the community, which depends on low civilian casualties.”

Which is why it is often better to go in quickly and have a very bloody time of it at first rather than letting a guerrilla movement prolong things for years and years.

6

Katherine 11.02.04 at 12:36 am

are you agreeing that we didn’t provide enough troops at the beginning, or are you using that argument as a vindication of Bush’s approach–that civilian casualties are bad so how clever of us to get them out of the way early.

I don’t think it works like that, at all.

7

Shai 11.02.04 at 12:37 am

sebastian:

excellent point about responsibility, but I think chris argument was more of a moral one than about the logic of the geneva conventions.

by “bring about” I infer cause and responsibility; I think you could make a much better counter-argument by addressing these without hanging justification on the intent of the geneva conventions (which sets out conditions which are often not realized in war, and may or may not be helpful when choosing the best course of action in less than ideal circumstances)

8

bob mcmanus 11.02.04 at 1:11 am

Baghdad Burning

Riverbend, in Iraq, is too busy grieving the dead and displaced to completely follow Sebastian’s superior moral argument.

9

A Hermit 11.02.04 at 2:36 am

Even if we grant that the “shift of risk” has been brought about by the guerrillas, this does not absolve the occupiers from their responsibility to protect civilian lives. And I’m not convinced it’s reasonable to expect them to dress in shiny uniforms and march in straight lines so they can be more easily killed by vastly superior American firepower directed from virtually invulerable armoured vehicles.

10

vernaculo 11.02.04 at 2:42 am

Sebastian, you know as well as I do that many of the so-called “insurgents” live where they’re fighting.
They didn’t scurry there to hide, they live there, and they’re defending their homes and their families.
I understand that’s very inconvenient for you, but it’s never been easy analyzing complex and bloody situations from a distance, some inconvenience is to be expected. Think of it as a balance to the safety you enjoy while you sneer at the men who are doing everything they can to oppose a a vastly superior military invasion OF THEIR OWN HOME TOWN.

11

tadhgin 11.02.04 at 6:24 am

There was a very funny Ali G when he asks a retired British Air-Marshall why he didn’t carpet-bomb Northern Ireland.

If the coalition were truly in Iraq for the good of the Iraqi population the idea that “our” forces should just have a “bloody time of it” would be equally ridiclous!

12

Chris Bertram 11.02.04 at 7:31 am

I think people — and Sebastian H in particular! — should reflect on the fact that it is just _unimaginable_ that the British Army (which did some very bad things btw) would have called in an _airstrike_ on the Divis Flats in West Belfast if it had discovered an IRA sniper’s location there. Unimaginable.

13

dsquared 11.02.04 at 7:43 am

This isn’t a transparent study

And Shannon jumps once more onto the “devastating critique” school of thought.

1. The issue about death certificates is such a tiny quibble that I’m surprised you’re not embarrassed to have brought it up. The authors have an extensive discussion of the issue in the paper, and your particular question could easily have been answered by emailing them if you were interested in the result.

2. In view of the massive increase in deaths by violence, I have to regard anyone who pretends that the most important thing in this survey was the infant mortality rate as being probably less than sincere.

3. When you say “In most other context a highly anomalous result would require explanation but this study’s authors just ignore it.”, you are not telling the truth. The left-hand column of page 6 of the Lancet study discusses the issue in detail.

4. Finally, you link to the Chicago Boyz post as if it were an independent source, without informing readers that you were the author of that post.

Your comment was, shall we say, “not transparent”.

14

elizabeth 11.02.04 at 8:48 am

Others have addressed the Orwellian logic employed by Sebastian, so I’ll leave it at that. Let me just add, the concept of illegal actions of a military nature, in war, is almost funny, if it weren’t so tragic. I am disappointed, actually, at the international lack of condemnation of this war, and all wars… We’ve a long way to go.

15

elizabeth 11.02.04 at 11:12 am

Others have addressed the Orwellian logic employed by Sebastian, so I’ll leave it at that. Let me just add, the concept of illegal actions of a military nature, in war, is almost funny, if it weren’t so tragic. I am disappointed, actually, at the international lack of condemnation of this war, and all wars… We’ve a long way to go.

16

Dan Hardie 11.02.04 at 12:29 pm

I’d like to agree with every word Chris says, and to ask Sebastian or anyone else to give me one (1) example of British troops in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency using air strikes or artillery fire missions against targets in heavily built-up areas.

I won’t claim to know much about calling in air strikes. But I’ve trained on calling in artillery and mortar fire missions, and this is basically how it works. You have a Forward Observation Officer (for artillery) or a Mortar Fire Controller (for mortars) – basically a guy with binoculars, a map, his own radio or a signaller, either in a vantage point overlooking the enemy or in a plane or helicopter- and he works out approximate map reference of the enemy target, radios it in to the gun or mortar crew, watches their ‘fall of shot’, ie where the shells or bombs explode, and radios in necessary corrections. Even with a really good MFC/FOO and a really good gun or mortar crew, you can expect at least the first two shots to go somewhat astray.

Now it’s true that some American units in Iraq have been using laser rangefinding- I don’t know how this technology works, I suspect that it strongly improves accuracy but doesn’t lead to 100% accuracy with every first round fired, and that not all US forces calling in fire missions can use this technology. Furthermore, I note that there have been plenty of reports (I saw my first in October ’03) of US forces locating enemy mortars by radar and then hitting their firing area. In the context of a guerrilla war this is so wrong I have no idea where to start. Firing on the grid provided by radar detection is simply not accurate: they will label an area of tens of square metres to be hit by artillery fire. The enemy may well, as Sebastian notes, deliberately choose to fire from built-up, civilian-populated areas in order to deliberately invite counter-fire that kills civilians- but, agreeing that the guerrillas are thereby committing a war crime, none the less the *obvious, sensible policy* for US troops is not to fire back using artillery or mortars, since causing civilian casualties is precisely what the (criminal and immoral) guerrillas want. If I was a guerrilla leader using mortars, and I was cynically looking to alienate US forces from the population, I would fire mortars at the Americans from locations in the middle of civilian housing for two or three minutes, rapidly retreat, and let the civilians take the brunt of the resulting US bombardment.

That’s the first issue with using artillery and mortars against targets in built-up areas: the first shots, directed by human controllers, even when fired by skilled crews, will likely miss their targets. Firing on the basis of radar detection is even less accurate.

The second point is that – although there is no such f***ing thing as a weapon ‘safe to civilians’- the area effect of mortars and artillery pieces (and tank guns) is so much wider than that of infantry weapons like automatic rifles. If I fire a 5.56mm bullet at an insurgent and miss, the worst I can do is kill one or maybe two civilians nearby him. (I’ll kill more, potentially, if my rifle is on auto or if I’m using a machine-gun- which is why the immoral, imperialistic British Army in Nothern Ireland had serious restrictions on the use of all types of automatic fire.) If I fire an 82mm mortar round – and *even if* it hits the guerillas it was aimed at- it is designed to kill people in a zone of several square metres, and will also cause serious damage to houses (which, if they collapse suddenly, also kill people).

A third issue- and again, the Coalition forces should be investigating it, and apparently aren’t- is the presence of ‘unexploded ordnance’, ie shells, bombs, and rockets. This is particularly a problem when you’re using cluster-bomb style weapons, which distribute dozens or hundreds of ‘bomblets’. All you need is a few such weapons and a (perfectly likely) 2-4% failure to explode on impact, and you’ve basically sowed an area with lots of deadly weapons, ready to explode on kids, people going to market, etc.

I’ve been flagging this in comments for a while, so it’s good to see a post on it. The use of air strikes and artillery and mortar missions are *precisely* what people should be worried about when looking at US military tactics in Iraq.

17

Dan Hardie 11.02.04 at 12:51 pm

I ought to add, btw, that I don’t actually know whether the US is using ‘cluster-bomb’ or ‘bomblet’ style weapons at present in Iraq. I would welcome reports saying for sure that they are or are not. But the ‘bomblet’ issue only relates to the third, and least important, of the three points I made.

18

dsquared 11.02.04 at 2:07 pm

Chris Lightfoot has a very good post on this subject up at the moment. (here)

19

Eyal 11.02.04 at 3:03 pm

dsquared,

You are correct that the possibility that the infant mortality rate is unreported is addressed in the study. However, they conclude that “We do not think that this is a major factor in this survey”. Now, you may consider the matter of infant mortality to be relaitvely trivial to the conclusions. But If an I run an eperiment where one of the base figures I use for calulation is 33% of the figure other runs of the experiment have produced (and I tend to see the UNICEF study as closer to accuracy, if only because the sample size was bigger), it behooves me to mention the discrepency (which they don’t – they only suggest such a discrepency may exist) and suggest why the previous figure is inapplacible. If I don’t, than my entire methedology is suspect.

Chris
I think it should be pointed out that, depending on the circumstances (the objective, its location, ordnance used, etc.), a ground operation may not be preferable to n air strike even from the viewpoint of civilian casualties alone.

20

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.02.04 at 4:51 pm

“Others have addressed the Orwellian logic employed by Sebastian, so I’ll leave it at that”

What is Orwellian is to make a year’s worth of arguments about the importance of amorphous international law and then completely ignore what one of the most concrete international laws say.

21

Uncle Kvetch 11.02.04 at 5:33 pm

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the actual number of civilian casualties directly resulting from US military actions is at the very low end of the range: say 9,000. I don’t believe that for a moment, but it’s not important for this purpose, because I’m still trying to wrap my head around this much more fundamental question:

Killing 3,000 innocent civilians in New York was an unparalleled crime against humanity. Killing three times that many innocent civilians in Iraq is simply the price that must be paid for their liberation.

Somebody help me out here.

22

mona 11.02.04 at 6:51 pm

Under traditional analysis the risk has been shifted from the guerrilla forces (where it belongs) to the civilians they hide behind (where it does not belong) and that shift of risk has been brought about BY THE GUERRILLAS.

Sebastian, this is from an Amnesty report on NATO bombings in Yugoslavia:

bq. 2.3 Human shields  

bq. In the aftermath of several NATO attacks that resulted in civilian casualties, NATO suggested that civilians were being used as human shields by the Yugoslav military.1  Protocol I prohibits the use of such tactics.  Article 51(7) provides: 
 

bq. “The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations.”
 

bq.       Further, Article 58 obliges parties to a conflict  to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations, including by removing civilians from the vicinity of military objectives and avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.  

bq.       However, Article 51(8) makes clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians,  such a violation of international law “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take the precautionary measures provided for in Article 57.”
 

bq.       Furthermore, Article 50(3) of Protocol I provides:  

bq. “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.” 

And that’s not Amnesty’s opinion. It’s spelt out clearly in those Geneva conventions you’re talking about. Those you say did not envisage the current situation or do not provide rules for guerrilla warfare. They did. They already covered all that. Very explicitely so. Also, whatever you or Donald Rumsfeld or anyone else may think of them, the conventions are still in force and still binding for the parties who signed them.

23

mona 11.02.04 at 7:04 pm

Yeah, it’s not “Orwellian”, it’s a plain lie.

I forgot the link.

24

Eyal 11.02.04 at 7:19 pm

mona

For starters, the US is not a signatory to Protocol I, and therefore is not bound by it.In any event, the Protocol allows attacking targets even when civilians may (or will) be harmed so long as precautions listed in Article 57 are taken.

25

mona 11.02.04 at 7:48 pm

“so long as precautions are taken” is not what Sebastian was arguing about. He was saying that the Conventions “understood that if forced to fight an enemy who did not follow such rules, armies would be forced to attack in ways which were more likely to kill civilians. That is why the war crime falls to the army who hides behind civilians rather than the army that kills civilians trying to get to that army.” In reality, the conventions say no such thing.

And yes, technically the US did not ratify that Protocol of the Conventions – I was thinking of Yugoslavia and NATO as a whole, as one coalition, and the US, France, and Turkey are three countries in it that did not ratify Protocol I. However, the report I quoted observes that “key provisions of Protocol I are reflected in US military code” (or is anyone willing to claim the US military code says it’s ok to kill civilians as long as they’re being used as shields?) and that:

bq. The fundamental provisions of this Protocol, including all the rules on the conduct of hostilities cited in this report, are considered part of customary international law and are therefore binding on all states.

The entire Conventions are very clear on the treatment of civilians. Also, no law or codes say it’s enough to claim “they’re using civilians as shields” as justification for indiscriminate bombing. If there is concern over particular incidents that might be considered war crimes, then it has to be proven there were really “human shields” and that all possible precautions were taken.

Of course, one might just as well argue we shouldn’t care about laws and codes at all. I’d rather hear that kind of cynical honesty than pretending concern for civilians while at the same time maintaining that international laws are too outdated and don’t really protect them when they actually do.

26

Eyal 11.02.04 at 8:43 pm

It’s a truism that a law will not be obeyed if obeying it is too great a burden. Protocol I was indeed written with geurilla combat in mind. However, in practice its provisions, being concerned with protecting civilians, often come down in practice as advantageous to the guerillas (which was not entirely unintended – read up on the Protocol’s history sometime). While protecting civilians is of high importance, i can be given too much importance, which paradoxically will inevitably lead to higher civilian casualties in the end, since troops on the ground (who, remember, are facing the risk of death) will begin ignoring them if they become too cumbersome. For example, consider a situation where ambulances are regularly used to ferry ordnance. Naturaly, all other ambulances will come under suspicion. Under the strict reading of the Protocol, however, only the specific ambulance involved loses its protection; the protection given to other ambulances is not reduced in any way* (to repeat, I’m positing a case of a trend, not an isolated incidence). In this situation, troops will gradually start ignoring the relevent provisions, which can degrade the obediance to the Conventions as a whole.

While I have some problems with some of the underlying principles of the formulation and implementation of international law, I admit it’s the best we have so far. So no, I don’t think “we shouldn’t care about laws and codes at all”. However, the laws do need some revising, because they’re mostly stuck in the paradaigm of state-vs-state warfare. They’re not, IMO, well-suited to handle terrorism which is somewhere between crime and warfare, depending on circumstances. Protocol I, for example, allows a terrorist to flip-flop between combatant and civilian status, gaining the protections thereoff.

*I’m not advocating shooting ambulances on site, of course, but they may be subject to more stringent checks (and thus delays) than would normally be done, which may fall under interfering with medical treatment of combatants or civilians..

27

Eyal 11.02.04 at 8:48 pm

It’s a truism that a law will not be obeyed if obeying it is too great a burden. Protocol I was indeed written with geurilla combat in mind. However, in practice its provisions, being concerned with protecting civilians, often come down in practice as advantageous to the guerillas (which was not entirely unintended – read up on the Protocol’s history sometime). While protecting civilians is of high importance, i can be given too much importance, which paradoxically will inevitably lead to higher civilian casualties in the end, since troops on the ground (who, remember, are facing the risk of death) will begin ignoring them if they become too cumbersome. For example, consider a situation where ambulances are regularly used to ferry ordnance. Naturaly, all other ambulances will come under suspicion. Under the strict reading of the Protocol, however, only the specific ambulance involved loses its protection; the protection given to other ambulances is not reduced in any way* (to repeat, I’m positing a case of a trend, not an isolated incidence). In this situation, troops will gradually start ignoring the relevent provisions, which can degrade the obediance to the Conventions as a whole.

While I have some problems with some of the underlying principles of the formulation and implementation of international law, I admit it’s the best we have so far. So no, I don’t think “we shouldn’t care about laws and codes at all”. However, the laws do need some revising, because they’re mostly stuck in the paradaigm of state-vs-state warfare. They’re not, IMO, well-suited to handle terrorism which is somewhere between crime and warfare, depending on circumstances. Protocol I, for example, allows a terrorist to flip-flop between combatant and civilian status, gaining the protections thereoff.

*I’m not advocating shooting ambulances on site, of course, but they may be subject to more stringent checks (and thus delays) than would normally be done, which may fall under interfering with medical treatment of combatants or civilians..

28

Eyal 11.02.04 at 8:52 pm

Sorry for the double post

29

mona 11.02.04 at 9:40 pm

eyal, in theory, all sort of situations can arise in a war in which laws and military codes not to mention ethics just go to the dogs.

That doesn’t invalidate the need to uphold those laws and hold the military accountable as well as politicians. If anything, it reinforces the need.

We can argue about all the possible hypothetical situations. Maybe it’s better to look at real situations.

I think the idea that laws and codes of war need revising because now there’s terrorism and not an well-dressed armies with neat uniforms with the state seal on them is a false assumption. How did the military discriminate between civilians and enemies in Vietnam? Right, it didn’t. Did the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Dresden distinguish the civilians from the military? The Conventions were born after WWII. They’re supposed to put a lot of limits to wars. Afghanistan or Iraq or even Kosovo are not the first wars where there are insurgents mixed with civilians. Or even terrorists mixed with civilians. When you bomb a country, you’re not conducting sophisticated anti-terrorism operations, you’re engaging in war in the same old ways as usual. The increasing reliance on air strikes even in urban areas started before the war on terror.

Has it been effective in dealing with terrorists?

Protocol I, for example, allows a terrorist to flip-flop between combatant and civilian status, gaining the protections thereoff.

No, it doesn’t “allow” no such thing. It requires the other party to take all possible precautions not to harm the civilians. Which means, you don’t destroy a whole building or neighbourhood only because you _suspect_ a handful of terrorists are hiding there. Civilian safety concerns aside, indiscriminate bombing is not the cleverest way to get to terrorists, not to mention suspect terrorists. The purpose of war in Iraq was regime change, not elimination of terrorists who, besides, poured in after the regime fell.
Please don’t tell me the only or smartest option to deal with that side effect of the regime change is to bomb the country all over again so we get rid of all the terrorists, insurgents, rebels, and everything in between – including civilians?

In past wars, people were more ready to take military casualties. Today, it’s clear that a military casualty has far more impact than the civilian casualties on the “other” side – also because the other side is another culture, another religion, etc. etc. So, minimise military casualties, try to minimise “enemy” civilian casualties, _but don’t really bother too much about it_ because the public won’t be bothered too much about it, once they’ve bought into the rhetoric about exporting democracy and figthing the terrorists “there” so they don’t come “here”. That is the reason there isn’t as much concern for it as there should be (certainly there is more than in WWII! but in WWII there was still no such thing as international law). Not some convenient depiction of an entire country as a legitimate terrorist-packed target, in an attempt to redefine the rules and laws without really rewriting them or renouncing them.

Because even if we agreed there were very valid arguments to rewrite those laws, those laws are still in place. So there’s no point using the opinion they’re “outdated” as excuse. Until those conventions and laws – all of them – get scrapped or rewritten, criticism (at the very least) of military strategy based on those laws is entirely legitimate, whereas disregard of them is not.

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