Law Review: Torture and War – shall we sweep it under the carpet?

We wear red poppies to honour those who gave their lives and who serve in our forces so that we can enjoy a degree of freedom – and, rightly so.  Men and women serving in the forces today are risking their lives to protect our national interests, political and economic.  Most, play by the rules of war and the Geneva Convention to which we are signatories.  Some, however, do not.  Are we to sweep this under the carpet?  Are we to pretend it did not happen?  Are we to rage against Wikileaks as some US commentators are doing?  Do we want to see Wikileaks proscribed by the Americans so they can take the site down and regard Assange as a ‘hostile’ and use ‘non-judicial’ methods to ‘take him down’ – and for that read ‘assassination’?

Four stories from the Press today provide much food for thought….

Humiliate, strip, threaten: UK military interrogation manuals discovered

Guardian Exclusive: Methods devised in secret in recent years may breach international law

Iraq war logs: These crimes were not secret, they were tolerated

Guardian: Why did we not investigate allegations of murder and torture in Iraq at the time, when it was well known what was going on?

Fox News editorial: WikiLeaks employees should be declared ‘enemy combatants’

Leading the attack on whistleblower web site WikiLeaks, Fox News editorialist and former Bush-era US State Department official Christian Whiton said on Monday that the US should classify the proprietors of WikiLeaks as “enemy combatants,” opening up the possibility of “non-judicial actions” against them.

Read more…

Iraq war logs: Apache attack’s child victims speak out

Guardian: Cockpit video of gunship attack that killed 19 and gravely injured two children was first major leak of Iraq war material

I watched most of this video.  It was quite a shock – the brutality of war made stark. Again, I cannot help but put the point – if there are rules for war, we should observe them, even though others may not.  I also pose the question – If it is war, why are there rules? Is the maxim ‘All is fair in love and war’ right?

In the film you will hear soldiers on the helicopter which machine gunned 19 people say of a child injured ‘It is their fault for bringing children into a war zone.’  It transpired that the driver of van ‘taken out’ by the gunship was merely trying to help.  The occupants were not combatants.  They were doing what many would do – seeing if they could provide assistance. I could see no evidence of the occupants of the van carrying weapons.  All I saw was a wounded man being rescued.  The machine gunner on the gunship must have seen what we can see on the film.  They ‘took the van out’  Two young children were badly injured.

We would not have seen this film, of course, but for Wikileaks.

Rules of War…rule of law?

9 thoughts on “Law Review: Torture and War – shall we sweep it under the carpet?

  1. The bigger lesson about war is it surely degrades all of us. Quite clearly there are those with psychopathic tendencies for whom this is just an opportunity. However, there are a whole raft or others who will, taken by circumstances, or emotion, or stress, peer pressure who will engage in acts and behaviour tghey wouldn’t in other circumstances. It’s clearly impossible to judge those in the strees of combat, or being near combat, on the same basis as those of us safe back in civilian life. Equally, there has to be recognition for the truly bad, but how do you set those guidelines? Famously the Nuremberg trilas eventually fizzled out when the allies and the Soviets started being obsessed with their mutual emnity. However, that was not after a few minor characters were punished along with the big names and many thousands of others, many of whom engaged in brutal acts, escaped the process.

    Unfortunately those that set up the circumstances which, almost always lead to such issues, rarely come to justice if they are on the winning side. Those politicians who so make those decisions are often too far removed from the abuses to be prosecuted, let alone convicted although they surely share some of the culpability, if only through recklessness.

    I know a few people that think of Tony Blair as a war criminal, but if he is, then it’s surely (at most) through negligent or, maybe, reckless decisions. He surely has his share of blame, but to what extent is he culpable? Also, who can judge what the alternative might have been and their own consequences?

    In any event, I think you have to be very careful before you engage on a wholesale attempt at prosecuting anything but the most blatant abuses as, without a doubt, there is lots of blame to be spread round for those that trap others into such positions. It’s very easy to be pious on these things without examining what we might do in such circumstances.

    In other words, I have no answer, and would not that we were in this position.

  2. An interesting post for sure. I am not in the least bit shocked of anything revealed by WikiLeaks, it is in the midst of war that men betray a savagery difficult to comprehend.

    There are of course rules The Law Of Armed Conflict… I broke many of those rules myself. Not through a wish to inflict cruelty on my fellow man – but because the situation was insane and I went with it.

    We owe it to those who fight to explore every last possible avenue for peace before we go to war, because once we cry havoc and let slip the dogs men become monsters.

  3. Steel Rain – agree… I do not need to say more. Thank you for the perceptive comment. Heat of battle is, I hope most people accept and understand, different from detention of war prisoners.

  4. At all levels of the military there is a requirement to obey the laws of War. The lawyer who advised that a helicopter should shoot people surrendering to a it at very least needs his sense of morality checking.

  5. The killings by the gunship, on the evidence of the video alone I must add, do seem to constitute a war crime. As would the killing of people trying to surrender.

    It does seem oxymoronic to have a ‘law of war’ but it doesn’t prevent killing, what it aims to prevent is the unnecessary suffering of civilians and in some circumstances combatants e.g. if they surrender.

    Torture is a serious violation of international law covered not only by the Geneva Conventions but also the Convention Against Torture, numerous human rights treaties, domestic law, and peremptory norms of international law. I think what’s worse in this case than even in the Abu Ghraib case is that the US (and coalition?) forces handed detainees over to Iraqi paramilitary police units and security services. Let me explain this difference. Abu Ghraib could, perhaps, be put down to ‘bad apples’ or poor military command structures etc. Handing detainees over to the Iraqi police must have been a political decision made by someone much higher up the chain of command. This must amount to at least to the complicity in torture and inhuman treatment of senior military and political leaders.

    The examples of torture put forward in the Dispatches programme have nothing to do with combat, the rules of engagement or the stress of battle to which soldiers are understandably exposed. They are an abhoration and reminiscent of the reported excesses of the Saddam regime.

  6. As we used to say in committal proceedings – “there is a case to answer.”

    Those who held high office in the Labour government have to answer the charges. Ultimately, those at the top have to answer – there can be no other way.

  7. I can’t disagree in the way you write this up as you have to highlight what is being done in OUR name.

    Steve Jones and many others are also correct about war degrading us all.

    The greatest likelihood is that UK and close allies on the whole fight within the rules. But, a difficulty might be that the enemy in many cases value life, as we know it, almost worthless compared to the afterlife.

    Its a bitter pill to swallow when torture is involved but I certainly know where I would look for war crime suspects. One; the writer of the book ‘a journey’ written in an attempt to glorify himself and re-write history. Justification for recent wars was and remains weak, if not unjustified by Tony Blair and his cohorts.

    Equally; British combatants in many cases were also sent to this unjustified war as if with one arm tied behind their backs by Gordon Brown.

    I will never forget this and that a friends son died, thankfully instantly as we are to understand, while three around him have life-changing injuries.

    Not exactly a journey for these great people, but a sentance that we like to put a ‘gloss’ on because thats what we do.

    Onwards and upwards.

  8. To be successful in war you must make your soldiers hate the enemy by brainwashing them into thinking of them as sub-human. The Americans employ this as much as anyone else. It’s not surprising that the result is these atrocities regularly happen.

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