Quite a bit has been written about the videotaped shooting of a wounded Iraqi by a US Marine in Fallujah, and I think it’s about time I got my two cents in.
My first reaction when I saw the tape was it reminded me eerily of the incident where John Kerry won his Silver Star. I spoke about that earlier, and defended Kerry’s conduct. I stand by that then, and I stand by that now.
In Iraq, we are facing an enemy that reads through the Geneva Conventions and uses the “thou shalt not” section as “helpful hints.” We’ve spelled out exactly what we will and will not do, and they are exploiting it relentlessly. We say we won’t attack religious structures? That’s where they’ll hang out. We won’t kill civilians? They’ll dress up as civilians. They’ll take hostages and hide behind them. We take prisoners? They’ll boobytrap the wounded. In every instance, the thread remains the same: wherever we show mercy and restraint, they will punish us for it.
Much has been said about how the Marine shooting violated the Geneva convention, that it was the plain and simple execution of a prisoner. From what I’ve seen, the Iraqi (if he was even Iraqi) hadn’t actually surrendered and been captured. Besides, just five minutes ago one of his colleagues had “surrendered” and then blown himself up, killing another Marine nearby.
Besides, the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply here. We are not fighting another signatory nation to the treaties. Further, we are not fighting uniformed forces, and therefore each and every single one of these “insurgents” is entitled to summary execution on the spot, if we so wish.
The only laws and restraints on our troops is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That is the law that covers our forces in uniform, and it and it alone should hold sway over the conduct of our forces.
And with the restraints of the Geneva Convention lifted, what would keep our forces from just killing all insurgents, across the board, on the spot? What would keep the US from simply instituting a “no prisoners” policy? A few things.
For one, the commanders of our forces understand the politics of the situation. Such an absolute policy would do our effort far more harm than good, and they”ll make sure it doesn’t go too far.
For another, the training of our forces. We don’t train our troops to be mindless killing machines. We have what is most likely the most intelligent and ethical military force in the world, and we impose far greater restraints on our forces than any other power.
For a third, simple common sense. There’s an old song that says “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” If the insurgents see that they are going to get killed regardless of whether or not they try to surrender for real, then every single battle becomes a bloody struggle to the end. While many of them seem quite willing — if not eager — to die for their cause. some still have that self-preservation instinct, and we can and should exploit that.
Some may say I’m putting an awful lot of faith and trust in our armed forces. I am, but I have good reason. To steal a line from a book I’m particularly fond of, “for the best reason in the world — we’re the good guys.”
And we want to be able to still think of ourselves as the good guys when this is all over.