July 28, 2003

INTELLIGENCE GATHERING IN IRAQ....OK, I just put two and two together. As usual, it was only after about the third time that I saw this article blogged that something finally clicked. Thanks, Mark.

Here's what clicked. A few days ago I linked to a Dan Drezner post in which he suggested that the attack on Uday and Qusay Hussein was good news because it was evidence of a "shift in intelligence-gathering" that would serve us well in the future. His optimism was prompted by this Washington Post story:

After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials.

...."You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he continued, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

And here's today's story:

In addition, there is general agreement among Army leaders here that in recent weeks both the quality and quantity of intelligence being offered by Iraqis has greatly improved, leading to such operations as the one last Tuesday in Mosul that killed Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.

Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." Such tactics are justified, he said, because, "It's an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info." They would have been released in due course, he added later.

These stories were both written by Thomas Ricks.

This is, to say the least, disappointing. At first we're led to believe that we're gaining ground in Iraq due to a simple shift in tactics, but a few days later we learn that what this really means is that we're kidnapping families and holding them hostage in order to increase the "quality and quantity of intelligence." This may seem like a good idea in the world of 24, but in the real world it's a war crime. It should end right now, and I hope everyone who linked to the first article links to the second as well and denounces these tactics as unworthy of us. The world should know that we're better than this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at July 28, 2003 06:42 PM | TrackBack


Comments

I tell ya, those posts over at Orcinus about the ethics of torture and such aren't simply academic.

Posted by: John at July 28, 2003 06:48 PM

(via Atrios)

Geneva Conventions. Protocol 1.

Art. 75.

2. The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents: (a) violence to the life, health, or physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular: (i) murder; (ii) torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental; (iii) corporal punishment; and (iv) mutilation;

(b) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, enforced prostitution and any form or indecent assault; (c) the taking of hostages; (d) collective punishments; and (e) threats to commit any of the foregoing acts.

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 06:56 PM

What seems to matter to our conservative bretheren is that such tactics yield immediate results. To which my response is, sure they do but at a long-term cost that isn't worth the intel you may gather, at least if you plan on trying to live among those you may take hostage and/or torture for information. There's a reason why there's a high road, after all.

Posted by: David W. at July 28, 2003 06:59 PM

How about using market mechanisms instead? No, really, I'm not kidding. Read the post!

Posted by: Kerim Friedman at July 28, 2003 07:02 PM

It's interesting the way you presented this. I would have continued the quote until the line that reports the Iraqi general gave himself up. One way this could be interpreted is that we are getting smarter in understanding the Iraqi mindset.

Having said that, I think we need to get smarter in other ways. Unless we have some reason to believe this woman and her child were passing information, they remain non-combatants and thus entitled to the protections Squiddy quotes above, as well as others contained in the fourth treaty. The other part of this story that troubles me is that we have a senior officer who lacks the judgement to not talk to the press about this.

Either evidence needs to be presented that this woman was passing intelligence, in which case I have far less of an issue with this tactic, or the officer who ordered it should be relieved.

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 07:03 PM

Perhaps you misunderstand what a war crime is. A war crime is something bad done in war BY OUR ENEMIES. Our side cannot commit a war crime BY DEFINITION. That's why Bush pulled out of all of the world court treaties; those furriners misunderstand what a war crime is.

There, that's my shouting for the day.

Posted by: epist at July 28, 2003 07:04 PM

"War crime?" Since when have the critics of the Iraq war bothered themselves with war crimes? Aside from when the accusation is leveled at the US--scratch that, make it a Republican administration--that is?

Posted by: paul at July 28, 2003 07:08 PM

Thanks, spc67, for reminding us that the ends justifies the means.

Hmm. Nice car... Is it yours?

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 07:11 PM

John, thanks for mentioning my posts. Unfortunately, I don't have them indexed, so here they are:

Is Bush already a war criminal?

Dehumanizing ourselves

From the 'Rockford' files

From the mailbag

Posted by: David Neiwert at July 28, 2003 07:14 PM

See they hate us for freedom and not our hypocracy.

Posted by: Rob at July 28, 2003 07:14 PM

Squiddy,

Did you read my post?

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 07:16 PM

'Since when have the critics of the Iraq war bothered themselves with war crimes?'

Umm, can you explain this to me Paul? What do you mean, that liberals don't think about war crimes? Or what, exactly?

Posted by: epist at July 28, 2003 07:17 PM

May I paraphrase spc##:

Committing a crime is OK, as long as (a) it worked, and (b) you spin it.

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 07:23 PM

Squiddy,

You are a moron.

[We] need to get smarter in other ways. Unless we have some reason to believe this woman and her child were passing information, they remain non-combatants and thus entitled to the protections Squiddy quotes above, as well as others contained in the fourth treaty.

You read that as me saying "committing a crime is ok?."


Either evidence needs to be presented that this woman was passing intelligence, in which case I have far less of an issue with this tactic, or the officer who ordered it should be relieved.

What exactly am I spinning? I am calling for the relieving of that officer,unless it is demonstrated they were passing intelligence. That is a condemnation of the tactic.

Cripes man is your thinking so addled you can't handle someone basically agreeing with you?

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 07:31 PM

Perhaps John Ashcroft will investigate.

Posted by: MacMan at July 28, 2003 07:33 PM

Jim Henley is right. We should make "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." the new American motto. We're making the country into what conservatives like spc67 want it to be, a place where taking someone's daughter hostage is OK if she was "passing information", and indicates that we're "getting smarter".

Posted by: Rich Puchalsky at July 28, 2003 07:39 PM

I apologize for misunderstanding you. But do I understand correctly that you think these hostage-taking tactics show "understanding [of] the Iraqi mindset"?

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 07:47 PM

Spc: While it's possible the wife might be, technically, a combatant in the sense of being a military messenger or spy, there's two issues:

1) It's highly, HIGHLY, unlikly to be the case.
2) The daugher almost certainly wasn't.

Posted by: Morat at July 28, 2003 07:53 PM

"The world should know that we're better than this."
Well, no, by definition we're not. Thank you, GWB. I like the rest.
spc67, I think there's a good chance this officer will be disciplined or relieved. It's the Army's job to know these rules.
Epist makes an excellent point.

Posted by: John Isbell at July 28, 2003 07:56 PM

But do I understand correctly that you think these hostage-taking tactics show "understanding [of] the Iraqi mindset"?

I think that the fact that the general turned himself in displays some success in understanding "hot-buttons," at least the hot-buttons of senior Iraqi military leadership. BTW, that doesn't imply that those hot buttons are exclusively Iraqi in nature.

That is a completely seperate issue from whether such tactics are defensible.
By the way, what was the car reference, I missed that one completely. I apologize for calling you a moron.

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 07:57 PM

Spc: While it's possible the wife might be, technically, a combatant in the sense of being a military messenger or spy, there's two issues:
1) It's highly, HIGHLY, unlikly to be the case.

I have no idea whether it is true or not, neither do you. I do agree that the burden of proof is on the US military.

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 07:59 PM

Spc: "The other part of this story that troubles me is that we have a senior officer who lacks the judgement to not talk to the press about this."

Er, just what are you saying here? That your concerned about officers who sanction potentially illegal acts, or that they admit to them when they occur?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement at July 28, 2003 08:02 PM

Er, just what are you saying here? That your concerned about officers who sanction potentially illegal acts, or that they admit to them when they occur?

Yes.

Posted by: spc67 at July 28, 2003 08:04 PM

I agree that it is possible that the wife and daughter were themselves spies or couriers, but the statement

They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in."
indicates they were being dealt with merely as hostages.

Posted by: Andrew Lazarus at July 28, 2003 08:18 PM

OK, update: my Atrios quote above was from the articles the US didn't sign, but we did sign the 4th Geneva Convention, which includes:

Article 34. "The taking of hostages is prohibited."

Same spirit, but misattributed.

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 08:22 PM

The tenor of the note certainly argues against the US thinking they were combatants.

I'm afraid, ladies and gentlemen, that the US has moved into committing actual war crimes. I guess we know why Bush wanted out of the ICC.

His butt's responsbile for that one.

Posted by: Morat at July 28, 2003 08:47 PM

http://www.adtdl.army.mil/cgi-bin/atdl.dll/fm/27-10/toc.htm

See 497 g in particular.

Posted by: MuseZack at July 28, 2003 08:58 PM

Umm, can you explain this to me Paul? What do you mean, that liberals don't think about war crimes? Or what, exactly?

epist-

Sure they do--especially when it's politically convenient, like since Bush took office. Don't remember this outcry while Clinton lobbed missiles in Africa or Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo. Plenty of innocents killed.

Or Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone. No interest in war crimes there? A couple of million people butchered, maimed and killed vs a woman and her daughter temporarily kidnapped--hmm...that's a close call.

Maybe the Canadian/Iranian reporter in Iran beaten who died of a brain hemmorhage? Right, that wasn't a war.

Hope these same people were screaming "war crime" when our captured prisoners in Iraq were found to have been executed.

Sorry, I really have no business dropping in like that. Usually calpundit seems a little less partisan than that. Or it's me, not sure.

Posted by: paul at July 28, 2003 09:28 PM

I just don't get the connection between any change in intelligence gathering techniques and the capture of Saddam's sons.

I had understood they were captured most likely because their host had simply decided to turn them in. So how does that represent a change in intelligence tactics?

Posted by: frankly0 at July 28, 2003 09:31 PM

As I see it, the United States basically has three options regarding the situation in Iraq:

  • a) Withdrawal in short order, leaving Iraq a giant mess, the consequences of which are likely to haunt the United States for many years to come;

  • b) Adopt whatever tactics it takes to protect American troops, including Pershing-in-the-Phillipines style aggressiveness, the consequences of which are likely to haunt the United States for many years to come;
  • c) Limiting the tactics and aggressiveness used to control multiple uncooperative and heavily armed factions to a certain set which are morally "acceptable" while absorbing continuous casulties and loss of our control over the situation.

Needless to say, *none* of the available options are good ones, which is why so many folks, I think, were highly hesitant about the need to, of all the places to attack and all the times to do it, hit Iraq Right! Now! The fact, however, is that we *did* choose to hit Iraq, and we *didn't* have the most complete planning about how to deal with it afterwards, and now we've got three equally bad options.

It seems that the Adminstration is gambling on (b) working --that is, being able to employ aggressive control measures without consequences from the Iraqis. Personally, I think (b) has a tremendously high probability of blowing up in our faces. But our other two options are *also* going to get many Americans killed and severely damage future American security. To say the least, not the best of all possible worlds here...

And I would echo spc67's comments --I think if you read what he wrote, really *read* what he wrote, he raises a number of very solid points. Bad enough when you feel you're forced to fight questionably to keep your troops alive --worse yet that you actually *tell* the press about them...

Posted by: Jeff at July 28, 2003 09:33 PM

Usually calpundit seems a little less partisan than that. Or it's me, not sure.

It's you. I'm sure.

Africa or Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo. Plenty of innocents killed.

You seem very concerned about human rights, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Can you provide some details of Clinton's war crimes in any of these areas? Maybe we could talk about Reagan's support of the Contras in the 80s after that.

Posted by: edub at July 28, 2003 09:38 PM

The current administration's delusion that how this plays to American voters is more important than what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq is going to look deranged in a short time.

Hopefully that amount of time is before November 2004.

Posted by: David Glynn at July 28, 2003 10:15 PM

Paul:

Let me see if I have this straight: You come in here accusing the posters of being hypocritical in their complaints about a war crime. You cite as the reason the fact that you don't remember a similar outcry from the board when Clinton attacked other countries.

OK, if that's a fair assesment of the discourse so far, what am I supposed to say to such an accusation? It is impossible (as we all know) for this board to have complained about Clinton's actions at the time. Perhaps you are insulting us because you think we ought to have included evidence of our prior disgust with Clinton's actions before being allowed to speak to Bush's?

If that's the case, let me ask you something further: What would you think of someone who came to your conversation, overheard you talking about war crimes, and told you that you were being hypocritical in doing so, since you hadn't decried other, unrelated acts that might also possibly be war crimes?

Oh, and imagine further that when you called them on this behaviour, they 'apologized' by way of saying that your conversation had been too partisan.

What would you say to such a person?

Posted by: epist at July 28, 2003 10:18 PM

This type of irresponsible reporting is why the administration is pulling the embedded reporters out of the field. It is intolerable that reporters now have a willing and trusting audience so that the unspun story is reported.

Anyway, human rights only apply to winners. Iraqis are losers.

Posted by: MacMan at July 28, 2003 10:22 PM

"The world should know that we're better than this".

Just who is that you're trying to kid?

Posted by: Jim Shiloh at July 28, 2003 10:28 PM

Just curious - does anyone know if Iraq has signed the laws of war? Are they bound by the convention?

http://www.adtdl.army.mil/cgi-bin/atdl.dll/fm/27-10/Ch5.htm#s1

247. Definition of Protected Persons
a. Treaty Provision.

Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.

Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention are not protected by it. Nationals of a neutral State who find themselves in the territory of a belligerent State, and nationals of a co-belligerent State, shall not be regarded as protected persons while the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State in whose hands they are.

Posted by: Rick B at July 28, 2003 10:45 PM

There's one huge hole in Paul's argument:

whether or not anybody else has done it has absolutely no bearing on whether or not the U.S. should do it. Period. "They did it first" is juvenile, stupid, and unworthy of discussion.

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 28, 2003 11:17 PM

I have a sneaking suspicion that the "hostage" episode never happened--or if it did, it happened in a wildly different way thn we're reading about it. All we have is Col Hogg's word, really--and that of one reporter who offers not even the most minimal critical appraisal of what he's told. I mean come on! this idiot is writing down this hostage story and nodding his head and not at all wondering about the Geneva Convention?

Whatever the provenance of this hostage affair, Ricks could have written this story on the beach at Cape Cod and had the whole damn thing faxed to him. There's no reporting here, just a reshoveling of military-sources information. The one thing the hostage story proves is that Ricks will swallow crap and ask for seconds.

Real journalist! Cleanup in aisle seven!

Posted by: Thersites at July 29, 2003 12:18 AM

for the record Paul; I certainly was against Clinton's bombing of Belgrade and saw it as another example of disinformation (read diana johnstone';s Fools Crusade) and US foreign policy has been terrible since before the contras. The occupation in Iraq is not going to improve because we kill ( not capture) the two grotesque sons of Saddam ( any SWAT team from any city in the US could have gotten them out alive.....but then maybe the Bushies didnt want them alive?!)....so the killing of US soldiers will continue until we let Iraq have an election and give them control of their own resources (neither of which is likely with Perle and Wolfowitz and Cheney calling the shots).

Posted by: John Steppling at July 29, 2003 12:22 AM

Paul: I'm not an American and didn't follow the US press closely at the time, buit my clear impression was that the American left was appalled by what happened in Somalia (which is what I assume you meant by "Africa"), and by US inaction over Rwanda. The tide of non-pacifist left-wing opinion (not just in the US) is that the US/NATO intervention was a good thing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and well executed: what happened there that you consider a war crime? FWIW, the death of innocents does not automatically mean a war crime was committed.

Posted by: Charles Stewart at July 29, 2003 02:36 AM

Paul, read back issues of 'The Nation'. It's the major publication of the left in the USA, and they were frequently critical of Clinton.

Posted by: Barry at July 29, 2003 03:47 AM

My reaction is that we ain't seen nothing yet. I expected the US to get the cooperation of some Iraqi Army units early on and to use them to suppress dissent. It made a lot of sense from all angles, and seems to have been the plan, thwarted by the dissolution of the Iraqi Army.

Posted by: Barry at July 29, 2003 03:51 AM

John:I was a supporter of the Kosovo operation, still am really. The lack of information however goes wide. It's been so long I'm not so clear on it myself.

Here's the story.

Early-90's. Milosovich tried to push through reforms in the Yugoslavian Senate which would have given Serbia most of the power. A few of the other provinces objected (could you blame them). Milosovich booted them out of the Senate. Those provinces seperated from Yugoslavia.

Over the next 10 years, Milsovich trained paramilitary groups to go in to the other splinter Yugoslavian territories to try and get them back in to the fold. The US was apt to do nothing at that time, mainly because the CW in DC was that the area was just a cultural morass anyway, and you could not achieve peace. (Ignoring the political roots of the conflict).

Eventually, the CW started to fade, (rumors had that Milosovich was going to expand the terrorist network to outside the former Yugoslavia, to Greece and other neighbouring countries). Nato got involved for that reason pretty much (which under the circumstances was the right reason).

Posted by: Karmakin at July 29, 2003 04:24 AM

Thersites, I don't think the colonel would make up a story about committing a war crime.
I'm not sure if any convention Saddam Hussein signed is binding on Iraqis today. My impression is that most of the world's governments ratified the Geneva Conventions. The US evidently didn't sign the first. This pattern is not unusual (landmines, Kyoto, ICC, child execution).
But the world should know we're better than this, obviously. One day we'll convince them.

Posted by: John Isbell at July 29, 2003 05:13 AM

How soon until we reach Mai Li, um, "tactics"?

Posted by: MattB at July 29, 2003 05:22 AM

Paul recites the same old tired rightwing line: (1) other people did it, (2) Clinton did it, (3)Why do you hate America? Others can refute this nonsense in more detail--it's easily refuted--but note how this argument shows a deficient sense of right and wrong on the part of those who make it. Other people rob banks, but that wouldn't make me think I'm entitled to rob a bank, too.

Posted by: rea at July 29, 2003 05:29 AM

Did they leave the note in English or were there some soldiers that spoke Arabic? This story sounds a little fishy, but we will see.

Posted by: Simon at July 29, 2003 05:44 AM

"Paul recites the same old tired rightwing line"

Yeah--it's called "changing the subject."

Clinton's bombing was--what?--five years ago? Probably long before this blog existed--so it would have been more than a bit difficult for people to criticize it here then. (I criticized it on various message boards.)

And, btw, Clinton's bombing was roundly criticized by more than a few Republicans--including many who are supporting Shrub's foreign adventures. Go figure.

Posted by: raj at July 29, 2003 05:55 AM

That same paragraph jumped out at me too, Kevin, but I think reading the rest of the Post story paints a more positive picture. The change in intelligence is not just due to nastiness like kidnapping. A later quote from the story:

U.S. officials say they began to see a significant payoff from the series of operations early this month, when the number of attacks began to decline and Iraqis began to provide more information about the resistance. "When you have one operation after another, there is a cumulative effect," the Army official said. "The effect of all these operations was that walk-in humint" -- human intelligence -- doubled from early June to mid-July. What's more, he said, "it was very good quality."

Tips began paying off so quickly that officials would launch one raid before another was completed, allowing troops to catch some targets off-guard because they didn't know that fellow resistance fighters had been apprehended."

And, even more positively:

After the fighting is over, U.S. military officials say, it becomes important to repair the damage -- a door smashed, a wall breached, an irrigation culvert flattened by a 70-ton M1 Abrams tank. Every U.S. brigade commander in Iraq has a "Commander's Emergency Repair Fund" of $200,000 that is replenished as he spends it. Over the past six weeks of the U.S. offensive, commanders across Iraq dispensed $13 million to rebuild schools, clinics, water treatment plans and police stations, said Army Col. David MacEwen, who helps coordinate the civic works.

"During Peninsula Strike, we worked very hard for every combat action to have a 'carrot' that followed," MacEwen said. "We'd do a cordon and search in one area, and then make sure the next day that LPG [cooking gas] was available, or that a pump at a water plant was working."

The efforts aren't just aimed at winning hearts and minds, but also at gaining intelligence. "When you're out doing the civil affairs operations, you get a lot of people coming up and giving you good information," said Maj. David Vacchi, the operations officer for a battalion operating just northeast of Baghdad."

In fact, if you read the story, we have switched tactics and it is paying dividends. I don't know what to make of the kidnapping story. If it's true, it is reprehensible, but it's far from the only feature of the story or the only change in our tactics and intelligence gathering, which is the way you're presenting it here.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull at July 29, 2003 06:01 AM

Hmm, the italicizing didn't work right, but you all are smart, you can figure it out.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull at July 29, 2003 06:01 AM

Doug, it's also the only part of the story where an American officer confesses to a war crime. Thus methinks it deserves a bit more attention than some other aspects of the story.

Posted by: Henry Shieh at July 29, 2003 06:07 AM

I agree it deserves attention. but it does not show what Kevin is claiming, which is that the whole "new intel sources" are simply a result of war crimes. The original post says:

At first we're led to believe that we're gaining ground in Iraq due to a simple shift in tactics, but a few days later we learn that what this really means is that we're kidnapping families and holding them hostage in order to increase the "quality and quantity of intelligence."

This is simply not an accurate characterization of the story, in my opinion, as it implies the only change is now we're playing hardball and taking hostages. Actually, the story says that new tactics, better engagement, follow-through, and carrots as well as sticks have led to a huge increase in walk-in HUMINT, and the raids have also resulted in continuing intel allowing follow-on operations.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull at July 29, 2003 06:12 AM

The 'carrot' part is encouraging. Both from the simple humanitarian viewpoint, and the long-range viewpoint that the US forces are learning.

Posted by: Barry at July 29, 2003 07:15 AM

Doug, it is my hope that the reporter somehow misunderstood Colonel Hogg, because if he said that American forces did such a thing, the next sentence should have been something to the effect of "This is not the policy of the United States and investigations have begun to identify the misguided individuals involved."

I would refer you to (as others have also cited) FM 27-10, the Law of Land Warfare, the official statement of the U.S. Army concerning the rules of war. Detaining noncombatants for the purpose of pressuring a third party is at the minimum a violation of Sec. 270, Prohibition of Coercion. Howeever, the implied threat involved may well move it to a violation of Sec. 273, Hostages. Taking of noncombatant hostages by an occupying power, Doug, is explicitly forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (Ratified by both the US and Iraq) and is considered a grave breach of that -- therefore is a court martial offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It's what Leavenworth is for . . .

What frosts me is that this is an Army bird colonel. Friends and neighbors, the Army does its best to engrave the Law of Land Warfare into the brains of professional officers -- if he actually said this, he knew what was going on.

I really want to hear the follow up on this one.

Posted by: Claude Muncey at July 29, 2003 08:16 AM

I'm not trying to diminish the import of the kidnapping. That is appalling, IMO, and should be investigated. I was just disagreeing that that disturbing part of the story negated or contradicted some other, earlier reported hopeful developments.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull at July 29, 2003 09:16 AM

"... early this month, when the number of attacks began to decline ...."

Are any statistics to support this?

Posted by: berkeley b at July 29, 2003 09:42 AM

If we really are the greatest country in the history of the world, as the right-wing whackos claim, shouldn't kidnapping be beneath us?

Posted by: Chuck Nolan at July 29, 2003 09:44 AM

Fascinating discussion. Claude (8:16 AM) alerts us to the news that the Army actually has rules for things like the treatment of prisoners.

Earlier commenters have pointed out that it is entirely possible that the wife was "arrested". I will put that in quotes, since I am not clear as to the civil liberties situation in Iraq just now, but my guess is that the US Army is operating under martial law.

Can we imagine why she might have been arrested? Some have pointed out that she might be involved in hiding the general, or aiding the resistance. I doubt the soldiers needed a warrant to demonstrate probable cause, so away she goes.

As to the child, she may be thirty, and also a "suspect"; she may be a child that the mother did not want left behind. Am I the only one who does not know?

So, we have conflicting theories - (1) this animal of a colonel is six hours from another My Lai; or (b) the civil liberties situation in Iraq is not ideal, the wife was arrested "properly", and held as prisoner.

And the "threatening" note suggests at least two theories: (1) torture and rape, coming soon, if we are not already doing it; or (2) it was a trick, but not a credible threat - the wife would have been questioned, processed, and released, as per whatever passes for procedures down there, regardless of the note. Since the local Iraqis are more familiar with Saddam's procedures than our own, the trick is effective.

If you have confidence in the judgement and professionalism of our troops, you will lean towards one theory; if not, another.

OK, start screaming "he jus said the end justifies the means". It is not what I said, but it is a time-saving response.

If I thought the "threat" was credible, I would be concerned.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at July 29, 2003 09:57 AM

Tom, those are false scenarios you're playing with.

The Colonel broke the law the instant he put the note on the table. The note leaves little doubt that he detained the wife and child in order to compel the lieutenant general to turn himself in. That is hostage-taking, that is against both international law and the law of the U.S. Army.

One does not have to assume impending atrocity to realize that the Colonel broke the law. The Colonel coerced the wife & child into detention in order to compel the lieutenant general to surrender to American forces; that is illegal in and of itself, not to mention immoral.

Posted by: Henry Shieh at July 29, 2003 10:18 AM

And the "threatening" note suggests at least two theories: (1) torture and rape, coming soon, if we are not already doing it; or (2) it was a trick, but not a credible threat - the wife would have been questioned, processed, and released, as per whatever passes for procedures down there, regardless of the note. Since the local Iraqis are more familiar with Saddam's procedures than our own, the trick is effective.

"Credible" does not mean "honest", it means "believable". Obviously the threat was credible, it worked. At any rate, the threat itself, even if dishonest, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is a war crime. It is not particularly credible that a US Army Colonel involved in the occupation would be unaware that such threats are war crimes, and it speaks volumes about the climate in the occupation that this would not only be permitted, but openly and "on the record" discussed matter-of-factly with the media.

Posted by: cmdicely at July 29, 2003 10:19 AM

Another point, Tom, is that confidence in judgement and professionalism on an abstract level does not mean one should look at these sorts of issues through an ideological filter. To say "if you like them you think this, if you don't like them you think this" not only draws the sort of equivalence that righties normally hate (what if only one side is right?) but is about a tiptoe away from "you hate the troops/America".

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 29, 2003 10:36 AM

Question for a hypothetical situation:
Suppose in this case there had been no note. Suppose the neighbors had been hauled out to watch the arrest.
The Iraqi finds out about it.
Now, let's presume he thinks the US is as bad as most of Calpundit's readers think, or maybe only as bad as Saddaam's security forces.
His family is in horrible jeopardy.
He thinks the worst and turns himself in.
This is eminently predictable, given what an Iraqi officer is likely to think from experience with the Iraqi security forces and what he knows about Americans from reading Calpundit.
Is this a threat, when we know for absolute certainsure that he's thinking we're about to do horrible things to his family?
Is a note really necessary for this to be a war crime?
I ask this in order to open the envelope a bit, since we're likely to see gray-er areas in the future.
And the reason people ask what you were thinking about Clinton's dogwagging is to demonstrate that your views are not principled, but partisan.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at July 29, 2003 10:46 AM

Tom, time to get on the same page . . .

The issue is not the treatment of prisoners, it is the international standards for treatment of noncombatants by occupying forces, and the enforcement of those rules by US military law. And those rules and the American interpretation of them have been made very clear by a half century's work by military lawyers.

First off, it does not matter at all under what pretence or purpose the mother and daughter were detained, and their ages do not matter either -- under the law they are both noncombatants, which means that an occupation force may not use their detention to compel the behavior of a third party even if that party is a combatant.

And the commander's assertion that they would have been released anyway is not material. There was an overt act, the taking of the two persons into detention, and the placing of the note completed that act and is the objective record of the criminal intent of that act. The funny thing is that if the mother and daughter were, unbeknownst to the general, simply out of town, the letter would sinply be a legitimate ruse of war. The combination of the two make it arguably a military felony, the kind of thing you are supposed to get put in jail for.

Posted by: Claude Muncey at July 29, 2003 10:46 AM

Like so many aspects of the post-major-combat-operations period, the gathering of intel was another misconceived first pass by the Bushies: they put out the deck of cards and tried to work from the top down.

so i'm happy to see that they are now attempting to work from the bottom up in the classic manner.

but whether or not the "number" of attacks has changed or not (and how would any of us know?), the deadliness of attacks has certainly increased considerably, so i certainly don't see as we can say that anything is "better."

Posted by: howard at July 29, 2003 10:47 AM

Richard, if there was any kind of legitmate reason at all to temporarily detain them, if nothing else to try to find out where the general was, no problem. This is, after all, a military occupation and finding and questioning formner military commanders is quite legitimate.

But let's get real here. If the news story is accurate, then the status of the two as hostages is hard to question. The whole point of the story was to portray the tactics we are now using to find key Iraqis and get them to talk to us. The point was not the detention, but that is was intended to coerce the general to come in. That is hostage taking.

A couple of sobering points -- this was brought up as a sucessful example -- what the hell else have we been trying, sucessful and unsucessful that violates the laws of war? And a bird colonel is not some lackey, he is a senior field commander or staff officer who is expected to be a competent professional fully versed in current policy. If a lieutenant does this it is a mistake. When a colonel does it, its something else.

Posted by: Claude Muncey at July 29, 2003 10:57 AM

Claude, you may recall the bogus story about that Brit commander.
Let's presume for the moment that we don't know the truth of this story and treat it as a hypothetical. Seems kind of sweaty to me.
But my question was different. What if we allow with no overt action a horrid thought to occur to somebody? What if we KNOW what he'll think ono account of the circumstances? We don't need a note to accomplish the same thing.
Is there a moral difference?
I presume there's a legal difference.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at July 29, 2003 11:03 AM

Richard, you cannot control what goes on in someone else's head, and military law does not expect you to. But you are expected to control your own actions within the limits set by the laws and usages of war. The actions described fit a definition of activity that is not only prohibited, but are considered crimes.

Posted by: Claude Muncey at July 29, 2003 11:08 AM

I thought this line was really really funny: "Fascinating discussion. Claude (8:16 AM) alerts us to the news that the Army actually has rules for things like the treatment of prisoners."

Posted by: John Isbell at July 29, 2003 11:16 AM

But my question was different. What if we allow with no overt action a horrid thought to occur to somebody? What if we KNOW what he'll think ono account of the circumstances? We don't need a note to accomplish the same thing.
Is there a moral difference?

If we deliberately engineer actions to produce that result, its an implicit threat, which is still hostage taking (see, for instance, the International Convention Against Hostage Taking, Article I).

Proving that might be difficult, though.

Posted by: cmdicely at July 29, 2003 11:18 AM

CM. Deliberately engineering? In Iraq, that would be any detention at all of anybody related to a big fish.
They'd have to think the worst, unless they have a better view of Americans than a good many Americans have of Americans.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at July 29, 2003 11:59 AM

Let's all step back for a minute and hope that this story turns out to be false. Because, quite frankly, this whole thing gives me the creeps. Remember a ways back, the blogosphere had a discussion about whether or not torture was justified, if it saved lives? There were people who referred to themselves as Americans who thought that was just. This hostage thing is just the same. Are you prepared to defend any action your nation undertakes, no matter what? And if you do, where is the line between patriotism and nationalism?

I'm not even going to sit here and talk about whether or not it's a good idea to torture or kidnap people in the name of American national security. It's not even on the table.

I think there's a reasonable chance this story is bogus, because the idea that some colonel would say something like that to the press is hard to believe.

Posted by: nota bene at July 29, 2003 12:05 PM

And the other thing that freaks me out is that the USA hasn't signed on to the First Geneva Convention. How in holy hell did we let that one slide by?

Posted by: nota bene at July 29, 2003 12:06 PM

And the other thing that freaks me out is that the USA hasn't signed on to the First Geneva Convention. How in holy hell did we let that one slide by?

The US ratified all four of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; it did not ratify the Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Posted by: cmdicely at July 29, 2003 12:42 PM

cm--close enough. Add to that the whole ICC thing.

I still don't understand how this whole "terrorists are evil, therefore we are righteous in our detention of civilians" thing fits into our "hearts and minds" strategy.

Posted by: nota bene at July 29, 2003 01:28 PM

Nota:
Straw man. That's not anybody's view, even of those who favor such moves.
The idea is that terrorism is terrible and so we have to do what we have to do even if it costs us in the hearts and minds department.
"Righteous" is in no way equivalent to effective.
Sometimes we withhold what we might otherwise do because of hearts and minds, or we don't. Sometimes we take heed of our scruples, or we don't.
But your straw man is a false description of the issue.
The real question is what you actually believe and whether you believe your straw man.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at July 30, 2003 05:31 AM

Poor Richard Aubrey, insane and paranoid as ever.

Posted by: John Isbell at July 30, 2003 11:36 AM
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