Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?

This is the third post in a series about some ways in which our Long War is changing us.

1. How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?
2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?

One subterranean meme among war-bloggers is the killing of prisoners.  It’s nothing new among soldiers at war (see this example).  But it has appeared in public, something extraordinary for America (but not, of course in other nations now or in the past).  Will this be like torture — something we condemn in others, than embrace as a useful tool?

Contents

  1. Ralph Peters interviewed by Neil Cavuto, sometime in late May 2009, Fox News (source)
  2. About those terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay
  3. A note from our past about the wisdom of executing prisoners
  4. For more information

Esp note section 3, a reminder that in the past we have hung those who killed US troops as POWs.  Rightly so.

(1)  Ralph Peters advocates war crimes

An interview by Neil Cavuto, sometime in late May 2009, Fox News (source).  What a sad nation we’ve become, when advocating war crimes does not damage one’s career as a military expert for a major network.  What will we become after another 7 years of warfare?

Excerpt:

Peters: First of all, I am not concerned about the human and legal rights of terrorists. Because as far as I am concerned, when a human being chooses to commit an act of terror against innocent human beings, he puts himself outside of humanity. And this obsession with the legal — supposed legal and human rights of terrorists — a small number — condemns billions of human beings, billions, to live in fear.

And again, Neil, once you commit an act of terror, in my book, you are outside, you are anathema, and you should be killed.

Now, I’m not talking about killing every living thing in the barnyard. But for example, when we attack an Al Qaeda compound, and the people defending the Al Qaeda compound can — and they’re shooting at us, that’s probably a pretty good indicator that they are terrorists. So I see no reason to bring them to the United States, no reason to bring them to Guantanamo. There are a small number of senior terrorists who have intelligence value. Them we should take prisoner, but we should do the interrogations in foreign countries — and why set ourselves up for legal problems?

Now Neil, I know it’s not politically correct. I don’t care. I care about the security and well-being of my fellow Americans. I care about the human rights of innocent people around the world. And as far as I’m concerned, terrorists should die.

And a good thing that’s happening now — as soon as you had this movement to close Guantanamo, et cetera et cetera, the word I’m getting from the field is our special operators and our soldiers and Marines on the front lines are taking fewer prisoners.

Cavuto: All right, so in other words, they’re killing them.

Peters: Yep.

Peters: We’re dealing with people who aren’t human anymore. They’re monsters. And just like in the movies, monsters deserve to die. And we agonize over this.

Cavuto: I see your point about what we agonize over. But what if all the 200 or so Gitmo detainees are not monsters — some were just caught up in a roundup where they weren’t doing anything wrong. Now, I don’t have the details or the who’s who on who might fill that equation here, but you know what I mean, that, that — then you would be wiping them all out.

Peters: Well, there will be miscarriages of justice in a brutal war like this. But I don’t think too many. We’re pretty good at figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong.

This is one step beyond his previous advice of “DON’T CATCH – KILL” in the New York Post on 24 June 2008:

A dead terrorist is a good terrorist. Keeps costs down, too. To be clear: I do not advocate executing prisoners. We should treat any terrorist we capture rigorously, but with basic decency. … But it is my belief that our conventional military and special-operations efforts should emphasize killing terrorists on the battlefield or in their lairs – conditions where it is entirely legal to do so.

In their “lairs”?  This is his nod to reality, since few insurgents are killed in battle.  He wants bombing of homes and other buildings — where everyone killed can be declared an enemy.  Pretty much what we do today.

About Ralph Peters

Peters has published extensively in the professional military literature, and made many powerful and brilliant contributions.  He is a retired U.S. Army officer, a strategist, an author, a journalist who has reported from various war zones, and a lifelong traveler. He is the author of 24 books, including Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World and the forthcoming The War after Armageddon, a novel set in the Levant after the nuclear destruction of Israel.

(2)  About those terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay

Peters appears certain they are all bad guys, who should be shot — and if that’s a miscarriage of justice, no big deal.  The evidence suggests that perhaps he’s the monster, and some fraction (perhaps a large one) are not.  There are dozens of articles like the following, and perhaps far more similar evidence locked away in US government files.

(a)  U.S. Said to Overstate Value of Guantanamo Detainees“, New York Times, 21 June 2004 — Excerpt:

For nearly two and a half years, American officials have maintained that locked within the steel-mesh cells of the military prison here are some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists — ”the worst of a very bad lot,” Vice President Dick Cheney has called them.

… But as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legal status of the 595 men imprisoned here, an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.

In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen — were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization’s inner workings.

… In September 2002, 8 months after the detainees began to arrive in Cuba, a top-secret study by the Central Intelligence Agency raised questions about their significance, suggesting that many of the accused terrorists appeared to be low-level recruits who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban or even innocent men swept up in the chaos of the war, current and former officials who read the assessment said.

(b)  Guantanamo detainees say Arabs, Muslims sold for U.S. bounties“, AP, 31 May 2005 — Excerpt:

They fed them well. The Pakistani tribesmen slaughtered a sheep in honor of their guests, Arabs and Chinese Muslims famished from fleeing U.S. bombing in the Afghan mountains. But their hosts had ulterior motives: to sell them to the Americans, said the men who are now prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Bounties ranged from $3,000 to $25,000, the detainees testified during military tribunals, according to transcripts the U.S. government gave The Associated Press to comply with a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

A former CIA intelligence officer who helped lead the search for Osama bin Laden told AP the accounts sounded legitimate because U.S. allies regularly got money to help catch Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Gary Schroen said he took a suitcase of $3 million in cash into Afghanistan himself to help supply and win over warlords to fight for U.S. Special Forces.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we paid rewards,” said Schroen, who retired after 32 years in the CIA soon after the fall of Kabul in late 2001. He recently published the book First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

… The U.S. departments of Defense, Justice and State and the Central Intelligence Agency also said they were unaware of bounty payments being made for random prisoners.

… In March 2002, the AP reported that Afghan intelligence offered rewards for the capture of al-Qaeda fighters — the day after a five-hour meeting with U.S. Special Forces. Intelligence officers refused to say if the two events were linked and if the United States was paying the offered reward of 150 million Afghanis, then equivalent to $4,000 a head.

That day, leaflets and loudspeaker announcements promised “the big prize” to those who turned in al-Qaeda fighters.

Said one leaflet: “You can receive millions of dollars. … This is enough to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life — pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.”

Helicopters broadcast similar announcements over the Afghan mountains, enticing people to “Hand over the Arabs and feed your families for a lifetime,” said Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former Qatar justice minister and leader of a group of Arab lawyers representing nearly 100 detainees.

(c)  America’s prison for terrorists often held the wrong men“, McClatchy Newspapers, 15 June 2008 — Part one of a series.  Excerpt:

Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as “the worst of the worst.”

But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo’s Camp Four who hissed “infidel” and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn’t: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.

“He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government,” a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.

An eight-month McClatchy investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that Akhtiar was one of dozens of men — and, according to several officials, perhaps hundreds — whom the U.S. has wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.

(3)  A note from our past about the wisdom of executing prisoners

Our past has many honorable moments, but these create standards against which our future action can and should be measured.  How would the judges of the post-WWII US military commissions reply to Ralph Peters recommendations?

(a)  An excerpt from Call to Arms, a novel by W. E. B. Griffin, a follow-up to his account of the raid on Makin Island by US Marines on 17 August 1942 (see Wikipedia for more).  I have not found this document, but the following is in accord with secondary sources I have found.

Griffin gives an excerpt from Proceedings of a Military Commission, Files 149234-150837, held under the authority of the Commander of the Marianas Islands, convened on 16 April 1946.  The accused were Vice Admiral Koso Abe, Captain Yoshio Obara, and Lieutenant Commander Hisakichi Naiki, all of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Early in October, a Lieutenant Commander Okada, who was a staff officer of the Central Japanese Headquarters, visited Kwajalein in connection with an inspection of Japanese defense fortifications. While he was there, Vice Admiral Abe, Kwajalein commander, solicited Commander Okada’s assistance in securing transportation to Japan of nine prisoners of war, Marine enlisted men who had been captured following the Makin Island operation and brought to Kwajalein. The Imperial Japanese Navy had been unable, or unwilling, so far to divert a vessel to transport the prisoners. Commander Okada replied to Vice Admiral Abe that “from now on, it would not be necessary to transport prisoners to Japan; from now on, they would be disposed of on the island [Kwajalein]” or words to that effect.

On October 11, 1942, Vice Admiral Abe delegated the responsibility of disposing of the prisoners to the Commanding Officer, 61st Naval Guard Unit, Imperial Japanese Navy, Captain Yoshio Obara, IJN, a career naval officer and a 1915 graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. The Marine prisoners of war were then being held by the 61st Naval Guard unit. Vice Admiral Abe’s orders to Captain Obara specified that the executioners, as a matter of courtesy to the prisoners of war, hold the grade of warrant officer or above. There was a pool of approximately forty warrant officers (in addition to officers of senior grade), none of whom was initially willing to volunteer for the duty. When prevailed upon by Captain Obara and Lieutenant Commander Naiki, however, three warrant officers stepped forward, as did an enlisted man, who would serve as “pistoleer.”

Lieutenant Commander Naiki proposed to dispose of the Marine prisoners on October 16, which was the Yasakuni Shrine Festival, a Japanese holiday honoring departed heroes. This proposal received the concurrence of Captain Obara and Vice Admiral Abe. A site was selected and prepared on the southwestern part of the island. Captain Obara ordered that the evening meal of October 15, 1942 for the prisoners include beer and sweet cakes.

On October 16, the Marine prisoners were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind them. They were moved from their place of confinement to a holding area near the disposal site and held there until Vice Admiral Abe and Captain Obara arrived, in full dress uniform, by car from activities in connection with the Yasakuni Shrine Festival. The Marine prisoners were then led one at a time to the edge of a pit dug for the purpose, and placed in a kneeling position. Then they were beheaded by one or another of the three warrant officers — using swords, according to Japanese Naval tradition. The services of the pistoleer, who would have fired a bullet into their heads should there not be a complete severance of head from torso, were not required.

A prayer for the souls of the departed was offered, under the direction of Vice Admiral Abe, who then left. A woven fiber mat was placed over the bodies, and the pit filled in. Additional prayers were offered, and then the disposal party was marched off.

On 19 June 1947, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Newton, USMC, Provost Marshal of Guam, reported to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that, in accordance with the sentence handed down by the Military Commission, Vice Admiral Abe, Captain Obara, and Lieutenant Commander Naiki, late of the Imperial Japanese Navy, had that day been, by First Lieutenant Charles C. Rexroad, USA, hanged by the neck until they were dead.

(b)  Members of the Marine Raiders, Second Battalion, executed on Makin atoll on 16 October 1942:

  • Robert V. Allard, Sgt., USMCR, Company B, Navy Cross
  • Dallas H. Cook, Sgt., USMC, Company B, Navy Cross
  • Joseph Gifford, Cpl., USMC, Company B
  • Richard E. Davis, PFC, USMC Company A
  • Richard N. Olbert, PFC, USMCR Company B, Navy Cross
  • William E. Pallesen, PFC, USMC, Company B
  • John I. Kerns, Pvt, USMCR Company A, Navy Cross
  • Alden O. Mattison, Pvt., USMCR Company A
  • Donald R. Robertson, Pvt., USMC Company B, Navy Cross

(c)  About Imperial Japan and the Geneva Convention

For more about the Makin Island Raid see Appendix A (Marine POWs) of Volume V in the History of U.S. Marine Corps operations in World War II, by the United States Marine Corps (available here).   Esp note footnote 33:

The Geneva Convention of 1929 was ratified by the United States on 16 January 1932, and by other countries before and after this date. Although not one of the states which had ratified this code before the war, Japan informed the Swiss Government in February 1942 that it “is strictly observing Red Cross Convention as a signatory state” and while it didn’t consider itself bound by the Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, it would apply “provisions of that Convention to American prisoners of war in its power.” U.S. Diplomatic Papers, 1942, p. 382.

A review of the depositions taken for, the testimony given at, and findings of the court of numerous trials of the Far East War Crimes Tribunal indicate that Japanese officials in charge of prisoner of war activities observed neither the spirit nor the letter of any of the articles of this treaty.

(4)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about torture:

  1. Something every American should read, 25 March 2009
  2. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
  3. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
  4. Dispatches from the front lines in the war for America’s soul, 11 May 2009
  5. Quote of the Day, 20 May 2009

30 thoughts on “Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?

  1. Ralph Peters hasn’t just advocated murdering prisoners held by Americans. He’s also advocated the execution of American prisoners held by the Taliban. Here’s a You Tube clip of Ralph Peters calling for the death of captured American serviceman Bowe Bergdahl on Fox News.

    Honestly it just shows that the extent to which many leaders and commentators are not just moral infants, but profoundly ignorant ones at that. The average fighter who knows they face torture and murder if captured fights to the death, even if facing overwhelming odds. The average fighter who knows they will be treated decently surrenders. The advantage to having your enemy surrender rather than fight to the death should be fairly obvious. The people who implemented and advocated these policies of torture and murder have thrown a profound advantage enjoyed by Americas armed forces away, for no gain at all, and no reason beyond their own self gratification.

  2. It isn’t clear to me what war crimes Peters is advocating. He seems to feel that if they’re shooting at our troops, then they are legitimate targets, and I believe that under the laws of war, they very likely are. It never ceases to amaze me that killing the enemy, this one in particular, has come to be seen as a war crime. Truly, we live in strange and terrible times.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: No, that is not so. Under the laws of our civilization (codified in the Geneva conventions), people who surrender cannot be killed without trail (e.g., military courts). There are a very small number of exceptions.

  3. @Burke Sheppard:
    The problem is the blurring of “who is the enemy” and/or “who is shooting.” Women and children killed in an airstrike against a “terrorist leader” … are they designated as “enemy combatants?” Were they “shooting at us?” Does cooking dinner for a “terrorist leader” constitute enough material support to classify the cook as an “enemy combatant” and warrant their killing?

    If you are a 2GW kind of guy, anyone helping the enemy should be killed … including women and children. In 4GW, the distinction is different … women and children are not legitimate targets. The distinction is then used to deliniate the “morality” of warring parties.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree. While what you say is correct, this is a far more simple question. What do you do after your enemy surrenders?

  4. @FM: I was making a point to Burke. He is making the situation overly simplistic. Simply classifying all on the other side as enemies as Burke (and Ralph Peters) has done as justification for “killing them all” is unacceptable.

    As far as my thoughts, we should not torture prisoners. We should not kill prisoners either (with narrow exclusions for war crimes, etc.).
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    Fabius Maximus: I understand and (as I said) I agree. But killing prisoners is a clear step over the line, and I believe it should not be confused with larger and more complex issues.

  5. @Grimgrin:
    Watched the video of Peters. Using his logic, I presume he would advocate the killing of those interred in the “Hanoi Hilton” since they were “collaborating with the enemy.”

    I gather from his “bio” on wikipedia that he has little or no experience with the horrors of war.

  6. What to do after the enemy surrenders:

    Count the remaining ammo on the enemy side. Not enough? Kill a few of them. The message is, you want to surrender, you got to bring something to the table. Empty your gun, then give up? No, not gonna happen. As I understand it, that was the custom in WWII, informally, of course.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any citations or other evidence to support the existence of this custom in WWII?

  7. If they are on the field of battle, kill’em all and let God sort them out.
    Deprive the libs of their fun frustrating Americans with legal crap, Geneva conventions, etc. when these vermin are not part of an organized army, country, or dressed like they belong to one. They just want to kill. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Our troops have too much to do than spend their time watching their backs from these creeps and the lawyers who will try to turn the tables on them back home. God bless our troops and God bless America.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Always nice to hear from those who are a mirror image of the killers on the other side. Comments like this are a valuable reminder that every society has such people, and they need to be kept on a short leash least they plunge the world in chaos and horror.

    A few other interesting notes in this comment. Such as the “on the field of battle”, a romantic but deslusional theme common to pro-war commenters. From the reports I’ve seen, few of our prisioners are taken in battle; more are taken in raids and sweeps. Similarly, few of the enemy are killed in battle; more are killed by bombs and such. Has anybody seen data about this?

    The closing line is esp fascinating. I wonder what religion Paparay professes to believe. Certainly not Christianity, as there is nothing in the New Testament and little in Christian theology to support such barbaric sentiments. Islam, on the other hand …

  8. FM: “Do you have any citations or other evidence to support the existence of this custom in WWII?

    Nothing formal, just a lot of reading here and there. Tough to get an official source for things like this.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: If you cannot cite one of your readings, please excuse us if we consider this a story (for now). There are millions of legends and myths about war.

  9. A word here. As I read Peters, he is not expicitly advocating the killing of prisoners, but let’s talk about that. It’s true, as Fabius points out, the the Geneva Convention lays out the conditions under which POWs can be put to death. THese are quite stringent, and properly so. But even if these people we are fighting now have surrendered, we aren’t necessarily talking about POWs. To be a prisoner of war, and a protected person under the Geneva Convention, one must meet the conditions listed in Article 4. I doubt seriously that any of the Taliban would qualify as actual protected persons. They can and should be killed out of hand if it is found by a competent tribunal that they are not protected persons. We did that sort of thing with the Germans in WWII when it was warranted. (As during the Bulge)

    Before anyone tries quoting it at me, I will point out that the United States has never ratified Protocol One.

    The Geneva Convention is a contractual arrangement between the High Contracting Parties, and the Taliban is not one of those. Nor is Al Qaeda. And they certainly do not conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. (A requirement under Article 4)
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    Fabius Maximus replies; Perhaps the defining characteristic of the pro-war, pro-torture, pro-kill-them-all comments is their lack of factual foundation. Like this one. Wrong on almost every level.

    * First, most of our prisoners in Afghanistan are Taliban. Since 2002 we have extended Geneva Convention rights to them (see this AP story about that decision).

    * Second, the Geneva Convention covers people who are not one of the contracting parties, so the fact that the Taliban did not sign does not decide the issue. It’s not a requirement, despite your reference to article 4.

    * Third, (again contracticting your belief about the necessity of following article 4) the key passage is common article 3. As Stuart Benjamin said (Volokh Conspiracy, 29 June 2006) said about the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision:

    “Bloggers (and others) can continue to say that the language of Common Article 3 simply cannot be read to apply to Al Qaeda. But not a single member of the Supreme Court agrees.”

    For a non-technical discussion, see this post by Eugene Volokh (a conservative, law professor at UCLA). Volokh knows little about the Geneva Conventions, and learns more from an expert in the field (Phil Carter — Captain, US Army, retired — now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs).

    For a more detailed analysis see:
    * “Is the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War Obsolete?“, Luisa Vierucci, Journal of Inernational Criminal Justice, September 2004 — Subscription only.
    * “Understanding the Executive Branch’s Use of International Law in the War on Terrorism“, Vijay Sekhon, Stanford Journal of International Relations, Winter 2006.

    “As I read Peters, he is not expicitly advocating the killing of prisoners”

    Don’t insult our intelligence, as if we cannot correctly interpret this “wink and nod” message. Peters is an A-team expert, with a long long list of publications. If he did not want to suggest killing prisoners, he would have made that quite clear.

  10. @ dosco

    The rule is that you’re a righteous target if the structure you’re in is. If fire is coming from that compound, then it’s a fighting position and can be lit up. There may be prudential reasons to hold fire, but there are no legal reasons why anyone being fired at from said compund is required to do so.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s totally irrelevant to the subject under discussion. Nice try to change the subject, however.

  11. @Burke:
    You espouse the doctrine of 2GW quite well. Which is why, IMO, we’ll lose the moral high ground and lose the war.

  12. You have to read between the lines of what peters is saying. Once they are legally in custody you can’t do anything. But he is also notunsaying to avoid a situation where you would have to take prisoners in the first place! It is one thing if the Taliban in question is clearly committing perfidy on the battlefield – but what percentage of cases does that represent? You certainly don’t discuss that in public.

    The German forces during the Battle of the Bulge were told to machine gun prisoners as to not slow down the offensive – Operation Wacht Am Rhein was the last act of desperation to close the western front. What does that say about us? Are we too that desperate?

  13. @dosco

    Please read what I said before commenting. I said that there may be prudential reasons for holding fire. I was discussing the law, not any particular G of W.

  14. All of this discussion rests upon the blithe assumption that the prisoners in question will be Taliban and not American.

    One American already has been captured; there will be more. I’m afraid that before the so-called War on Terror ( or whatever we are calling it nowadays )is over, Americans will be much better educated on what it means to be taken prisoner.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I have no idea why you make this assumption. Also, we’ve thousands of prisoners for every American taken captive. What is your point?

  15. “The field of battle” is a romantic notion? If the enemy hides amongst the citizens and fights there, how else besides sweeps and raids do you think we will get to them? That is the nature of today’s field of battle. So what do we do? Sit back and wait for them to come out and play? Once we have them, you curiously ignore my comments about our troops having to defend themselves legally. All I am saying is rather than turn over “prisoners” of war, that they just say “what prisoners?”

    It is your kind of crap thinking, legal hair splitting that makes for losing wars. You are either in it to win or to lose. You obviously were on the side that wanted Bush to lose, wanted America to lose. You for all your daintiness want our enemies afforded all the rights of the American legal system, and fail to see that these creeps, if released back into the fight or onto American soil will continue the fight. Col. Peters is a warrior and knows what he is talking about. I respect him. You I can do without. And my religion has nothing to do with my opinions. If I am going to war, I intend to win. And I will not be the “mirror image” of my enemy because you say so. No equivocation. No if, and’s or buts. Take no prisoners, Kick their ass, Spill their blood. Grease our tank treads with their guts. I prefer warriors like Gen. George S. Patton, not pussies like you.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: First, I was noting that few prisoners were taken on the field of battle, which you incorrectly implied.

    Second, you display little knowledge of the history and nature of foreigners fighting local insurgencies. Your policies have been followed in many — perhaps most — such wars. From Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s “Changing Face of War” (2006):

    What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s explusion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

    Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Which is why the new COIN field manual, FM 3-24 sought to try new tactics, focusing on building local support to strengthen the legitimacy of the local government.

    “obviously were on the side that wanted Bush to lose, wanted America to lose…”

    Padawan, you as yet display little knowledge of the Force. On the right side you will see the FM site is indexed by tag, by category, by the FM reference pages (subject) — a more reliable source of insight than such foolish guesses.

  16. Actually Paparay is right when he says he’s not the mirror image of the enemy we’re engaged against in Afghanistan. The Taliban have the good sense to understand the importance of the support of the local population and have issued a field manual to that effect.

    “The booklet also says that enemy soldiers should not be killed if they surrender and that prisoners should not be harmed. “

    The Taliban aren’t making a show about this because they’re soft, or nice, or weak. They’re doing it because they see the value of being perceived as the good guys by the local population, and because they understand that a live prisoner is more valuable to them than a corpse.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Before getting excited about the new Taliban policies, let’s see if they follow them.

  17. Re: “Fabius Maximus replies: I have no idea why you make this assumption. Also, we’ve thousands of prisoners for every American taken captive. What is your point?

    My point relates to circumstances such as those recently described by Bill Lind:

    In fact, Colonel Reese’s conclusion, that we should leave Iraq as quickly as we can, is so obvious it raises some second-order questions. First, exactly why are we keeping 130,000 men in a horribly exposed position, their main LOC running parallel to a potential enemy’s front for 1000 miles, surrounded by a slowly accelerating civil war?

    Circumstances such as this are well known and have been widely discussed. They very obviously suggest that a risk exists in that many of these 130,000 could be captured under foreseeable circumstances. In which event, we would all hope that they would be well treated, but that would be unlikely if the United States itself has gone around brutalizing its own prisoners. It is my perception that those advocating that the United States dish out tough treatment to those it captures have not thought through points such as Lind’s.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the explanation. I agree that few pro-war advocates — probably few Americans — see any substantial risk to our wars. Merely opportunity cost — wasted money — and some casualties. Me too. The period of high risk in Iraq had passed by late 2007. The risk was of external support for the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, and large-scale Iranian support for the Shiites — either of which would have meant radical increases in the training and weapons of those we fought. The logistics of Afghanistan make any similar and sudden foreign intervention unlikely. Esp as the Taliban has few friends.

  18. Considering our tendency to define “Al Qaeda” and “terrorists” as anyone who resists our will and happens to be Muslim, then he basically advocates killing any prisoners in general. Considering that societies like Afghanistan’s tend to have a preference for vendettas then the logical end result of his logic isn’t killing prisoners, but ultimately genocide if the tribes continue to resist which they are likely to do. Not only is is a good way to depopulate Afghanistan, but also it is an excellent way of completely destroying our reputation for being champions for human rights. This reputation that Peters is more than happy to destroy may be more useful for us than all of our predators put together in the Long War.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Our inability to see that the moral high ground can be decisive in 4GW is one of the oddest aspects of our wars. Esp as it was a decisive element in both the Revolutionary War (weakening support for the war inside Britain) and the Civil War (keeping Britain from aiding the South). We see ourselves as so sophisticated that all we can understand is brute force. Killing.

  19. I like Ralph Peters. Because Ralph Peters is pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. If Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters had his way the United States of America would take the leash off of Israel and allow the Israelis to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all.

  20. Senor Tomas, i thought long and hard about your post. How I would respond to it…perhaps by pointing out recent history but I feel that it would fall on deaf ears. Instead I will simply qoute Nietzsche (I feel this is apt in the circumstances)

    “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

  21. @senor tomas:
    I almost made a reference to Israel. I would say that their recent forays into Palestine were not only horrifying, but also utter failures. If the only way to “win” a 4GW conflict is to “kill them all,” then I think it fair to say that the nation executing this methodology will surely lose the war.

  22. “I disagree. While what you say is correct, this is a far more simple question. What do you do after your enemy surrenders?”

    Well with all respect I submit that the answer to that ALWAYS depends upon the ‘future’ expectations that you have. If killing everyone who is shooting at you decreases the strength of the opponents, and hugely weakens them in the future, whereas ‘capturing prisoners’ causes you nothing but headaches and heartaches, then what precisely is gained by ‘forebearance’ ? Is there a universal morality test at the end of the day ? Does it include math ? When the victors are victorious, do they have to give it all back because they shot first and asked questions NEVER ?

    The MAIN reason we don’t NOW execute ALL prisoners is that it proved to be an ineffective tactic once a certain stage of social development had been reached. It isn’t ‘kindness’. It’s practicality flying under the pleasant and always complimentary flag of ‘kindness’. Too darn expensive for EVERYONE on many many levels. This type of warfare does not really fit neatly into the ‘Western Way’. And the ‘rules’ we created to suit Western Wars don’t necessarily fit either. I’m not saying that they don’t fit, just that it is not nearly as self-evident as this posting makes it out out be.

    Now, that said, we probably should not just shoot down everyone in sight due to the effect such behavior has not only upon the ‘environment’ in which we have to fight, but also upon the ‘wellness’ of those who are there at the pointy end of the stick, and have to do the shooting. But those are utilitarian calculations, not existential ones. And THAT is a monumental difference indeed.

    If it could be empirically demonstrated that ‘taking no prisoners’ was a tactic that actually ‘worked’, and perhaps even ‘saved lives’ over time, then would it be ‘wrong’ to do so ?

    I have my doubts.

  23. It also matters how the prisoners are treated .
    I have seen snippets that indicate that the Afgh national prisons are hell holes , and the law a joke , especially for women . Sharia law should not carry all the blame for this ( see Wikipedia on Sharia Law ). Nor should poverty , after all the money we have put into the country . If the Taliban are terrorists they should be held/tried on criminal charges by the Afgh gov.
    If the Taliban are not terrorists they could be freedom fighters or soldiers . Since the Taliban was the gov when we invaded , the latter would seem reasonable. Therefore they should be treated as prisoners of war , in Western terms ; or possibly as slaves ( who should be treated well and able to earn money or credit to buy their freedom ) if you are an Olde Tyme Islamic Fundamentalist .
    If you are a Christian of course , you would visit them in prison ; but you wouldnt fight them in the first palce , instead offering them everything you hath .

  24. Fabius, your answer to my earlier comment #11 is wrong on almost every level. First, if you actually read Article 3, it is meant to apply to wars “Not of an international character fought on the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties”. This is not the situation we face in Afghanistan. Article 3 is completely irrelevant to the discussion. No doubt you can find eniment experts to say other wise, but just because the Supreme Court, or the Court of World Opinion or whatever says that black is white does not mean that black is in fact white.

    You are, however, partally right about one thing. Whether or not the Taliban ever signed the Geneva Convention is not the only issue. They also would have to abide by it, and that isn’t the case either.

    And do not lump me with some “pro-torture” faction. I do not defend or advocate torture, and have argued against it in public forums. Although I do not believe for a moment that terrorists have rights under the Geneva Convention, there are things I would not do to a detainee regardless.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I gave several supporting citations.
    * a blog by a well-known conservative attorney, who cites the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs (who probably knows something about the subject),
    * two journal citations, and
    * a unanimous verdict by the Supreme Court.
    Perhaps you can provide something support your position. Otherwise I’ll recommend disregarding your comment as hot air.

  25. I cited the text of the Geneva Convention, which I thought was something to be taken as fairly authoritative. I have yet to hear anyone explain how the war in Afghanistan could be considered as “Not of an international character”, which is a condition that must be met for invoking Article 3. Nor do I expect to hear such an explanation in this forum.

    But of course the text of the document will no doubt be considered as being “hot air”. I’m sure the Geneva Convention won’t be considered nearly as authoritative as an opinion about the Geneva Convention that you find more agreeable.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You cited a tiny fragment of the full text, with no context. As anyone familar with the law knows, that is not determinative. Your interpretation is not correct, as was discussed in detail in the references I gave — and many times elsewhere in the past several years. There is no need to repeat them here.

  26. Well, I thought that copying and pasting the whole document in this forum would be bad form, as it’s a bit long. However, I will paste this much {snip} As you can see, quoting the full article in no way invalidates what I said. There are certain conditions that must be met before Article 3 comes into play, and those conditions do not obtain in Afghanistan. And as I predicted, no one is prepared to explain how those conditions can be said to obtain.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I’ve been a good sport about this, but enough. If you are so cocksure that you need not bother to read what actual experts say, fine. You’ve had you say. No mas.

  27. First,the geneva convention does not apply to anyone in a firefight- in most instances the taliban do not meet the requirements for the protections of the convention. Secondly, I would not put much faith in the NYT estimates of the value of gitmo detainees- they have been less than completely honest on the value of interrogation. We should not murder prisoners- but we should not grant them Geneva convention rights if they do not warrant them- which no terrorist does, and many taliban do not either. The Europeans seek to grant such rights to any illegal combatant- we do not & should not agree.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Your opening sentence makes no sense. First, who says that the GC applies “to anyone in a firefight”? That would imply that we could not shoot back, which is absurd. Second, what is your basis for saying that the Taliban do not meet the GC requirements? I gave quite a few expert references saying otherwise.

  28. My first sentence does make sense- many taliban do not meet the requirements for Geneva protection {fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (uniform/markings), fail to carry arms openly, adhere to rules of law- civilians as shields is common} you seem to assert they deserve the right by the act of fighting. You cite no reference that pertains- Pres. Bush did publicly extend protection to the taliban- but we are not legally bound to do so in many cases & can revoke the protection for many at our discretion- they are often ILLEGAL COMBATANTS. We should not give protection to illegal combatants- to do so removes the incentive to groups like the taliban to comport with the rules of war (ie better treatment if captured for those who fulfill the criteria for legal combatants)- do not quote European nonsense about extending the protection to any insurgent group. The US has not & should not agree to such an extension of protection. Any and all members of the taliban who violates the rules of war should get inferior treatment to those who do not.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I suggest you look at the references I gave. The Supreme Court ruled that members of al Qaeda have some GC rights, and I doubt they follow your requirements. Too bad that you are not the deciding legal authority.

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