Presidential power and criminal terrorists

One of the fun things I did this past weekend was listen to some very distinguished legal academics discuss civil rights during times of terror. One of the speakers reminded us that, throughout American history, Presidents have flexibly interpreted the Constitution to expand their powers during perceived times of need.

As early as the beginning of the 19th Century, Thomas Jefferson, turning his back on everything he stood for, neatly bypassed the Constitution in order to make the Louisiana Purchase — and we’re all very grateful to him for having done so. Lincoln, of course, is famous for having suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War which, while not directly violative of the letter of the Constitution, certainly violated its spirit. (Not to mention the fact that many questioned the Constitutionality of the entire war itself.) Uber-Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt is also remembered for having imprisoned thousands of Japanese Americans merely because they were of Japanese ancestry. And what many don’t know is that Woodrow Wilson, a progressive Democrat (and a segregationist, of course), pretty much blew the Constitution to pieces during WWI, stamping out manifestly free speech that he characterized as seditious (not to mention the number of socialists arrested during his administration for their party affiliation, despite the fact that it was a legal American party).

The bottom line is that, during times of stress, Presidents get the power. Or, as the little mnemonic in my notes says, Peril = President; Calm = Congress. That’s a good way to remember that external stressors will affect the ebb and flow of power between the President and Congress.

The above was an observable historical fact. Where a little polite tension developed amongst the panelists was whether captured terrorists should be given the full panoply of civil rights or whether they should be limited to military tribunals. This is obviously not a new issue. As you may recall, John Kerry caught a lot of flack for yearning for the days when we could just read those terrorists their rights, toss them in jail, give them a free attorney, make sure they have a speedy trial, etc.

One of the panelists, who is, I gather, some sort of Constitutional Law wunderkind, expressed that same Kerry-esque yearning that terrorists should be accorded full civil rights. He never came out and said it, but he seemed to feel that the Geneva Convention was just a starting point for the rights we ought to extend to captured foot soldiers fighting with, or on the same side as, Al Qaeda, and implied that civilian criminal trials are the way to go.

As for me, Hamdan notwithstanding, I don’t believe that America should have the obligation to extend to Al Qaeda terrorists (and fellow travelers) rights under the Geneva Code. Terrorists don’t fight for a signatory nation, nor do they obey the Geneva conventions in the way they fight.

Having said that, though, I believe that we, as Americans, maintain our own moral integrity if we treat prisoners (whether ordinary prisoners or prisoners of war) with certain minimal standards of decency — and the Geneva Convention provides just such a standard.  After all, without a floor, when a society goes to war one may find that POWs are treated with increasing degrees of cruelty. And by that, although Abu Ghraib was gross (and, I hope, aberrant), I’m not talking about “mere” sexual humiliation and fear. I’m talking about the kind of treatment the Japanese meted out to Marines or that the Germans did to Americans. War, already horrible, would become bestial.

The big question is, if I’m willing to admit that our society needs to extend rights to prisoners, not for their benefit, but for ours, why am I not willing to extend to them all of the rights available under the Constitution?  The most obvious reason, of course, is that enemy combatants, by definition, are not citizens engaged in statutory criminal acts.  The latter, no matter how bad their behavior, are the ones the Constitution is intended to protect, to ensure that our government doesn’t use it’s massive weight to crush its own people.  Fighters caught on foreign battlefields, or having entered this country to engage in violent acts, cannot be the intended beneficiaries of that special protection.

There’s actually an easier answer, though, than trying to figure out who is entitled to what protections.  Instead, look at the goals behind the criminal justice system and the military prisoner of war system.  America’s criminal justice system is actually intended to give each citizen the maximum opportunity to fight the government and return to the streets.  That’s why we have Miranda warnings, bail, the right to a speedy trial, the right to counsel, evidentiary exclusion, the rules of evidence, etc.  Everything is meant to give a citizen a fighting chance against the government.  Sentencing for all but the most heinous crimes is limited and specific.  And, of course, there is our generous appeals process, which ensures those convicted repeated bites at the apple.  Lastly, after people have served their time, they are then, at least in theory, invited to rejoin society as fully functioning members.

All of the above is the exact opposite of our goals with a captured fighter.   It’s entirely irrelevant whether he was a lowly foot soldier,  a crack sniper, or a bomb maker, just as it’s irrelevant whether he actually succeeded in killing or wounding Americans as he carried out those tasks.  When considering prisoners of war, what really matters is that, for the duration of the war, they cannot return to the battlefield.  After all, even if a POW’s IEDs didn’t work before, they may work in the future.  Civil rights cannot apply when your sole purpose is to decrease your enemy’s strength.  And before you get all bent out of shape about how it is so not fair to imprison someone indefinitely just because he had the misfortune to be caught fighting for his beliefs, keep in mind that this is vastly more civilized than the old system of dealing with captured enemy combatants — summary execution.

I do realize that we still have to grapple with the implications of what is shaping up to be a long, ideologically driven war.  Again, with an eye to America’s own mental and moral health, we cannot keep enemy combatants imprisoned for what may turn out to be decades.  This is especially true if, as some say, many of these prisoners have nothing to do with the war, but were turned in by neighbors for reward money or to resolve long-standing feuds.  Certainly, as a result of Hamdan and related cases, the military is required to investigate such claims, and that process alone may be sufficient.  I don’t pretend to have an answer to that question.  I just know that the criminal justice system is not the answer.

As you’ve probably noticed, the above discussion has to do with lowly fighters, and hasn’t touched upon the big fish caught after intensive, and high-level, operations.  With these people, we don’t just want to keep them out of the fight for the duration, we actively want them punished.  Why then do we not accord them civil rights in a civilian justice court?  One phrase holds the answer:  National Security.  If we assume that these big guys were caught because of a successful intelligence operation, a trial in a regular criminal court would mean exposing that operation to public view.  Even holding a secret trial would be pointless, because no one in the courtroom would have the type of security clearance necessary to hear the case without the government then being forced to disband the specific intelligence program.  That would be an enormous price to pay to convict even a criminal mastermind.  The military justice system, however, which does accord rights to prisoners, does come with a built-in national security component, and that makes it a very good choice for dealing with such a trial.

The fact is, when a country is at war, rights contract.  They have to, because a completely free society is too porous to protect itself against massed opposing forces.  The best you can do is to strike a balancing act intended to maximize national security and military imperatives (such as getting enemy troops off the battlefield), while simultaneously maintaining as many Constitutional rights as possible, and those in their strongest available form.  It’s a tough act, and has always resulted in mistakes and civil rights errors.  Fortunately, America has shown itself to be resilient, and every assault on civil rights throughout the history of our nation has not only been remedied, but has usually seen the civil rights emerge in expanded form.


23 Responses

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  2. I’ve discussed this several times with people who believe terrorists are automatically entitled to Geneva Convention treatment. You are absolutely correct that the GOAL of winning the conflict is what should drive our behavior towards the captives, rather than concern over their rights.

    Most people are unaware that the “laws of war” also regulate behavior on the battlefield, such as attacking civilians or killing prisoners. All US military personnel are trained to follow these rules. We adhere to these standards with the expectation of reciprocity.

    Our opponents obviously do not observe these restraints, and are not entitled to the benefits otherwise to be expected.

  3. […] Bookworm Room, “Presidential Power and Criminal Terrorists” […]

  4. This was an excellent summary of the POW problem, and I agree with your position. I haven’t heard one person in Germany that seems to understand the issues, much less be willing to work to establish an international consensus. Once again, we make the hard decisions and they point fingers at us.

    Needless to say, the European attitude has done little to increase my respect for their “superior” intellect or morality.

  5. Hello Book,

    Here’s the problem with extending the Geneva Conventions to the terrorists. You already pointed out one problem. The Geneva Conventions specifically states that if you are not wearing a uniform and carry the insignia of a nation, you are by definition outside the protections of the articles ratified under the Geneva Conventions. A terrorist, according to the Geneva Conventions, can be summarily executed.

    The second problem is this. The Geneva Convention was conceived and signed by “civilized” nations in order to maintain at least the fiction of civility in the midst of war. Previous to that point, torture and wanton executions and the like were common practices. The Geneva Conventions were a series of agreements between civilized nations designed mitigate these horrors. There is a specific article in (if I recall correctly) the third Geneva Convention that states that all signatories of this document would extend these agreements to countries that didn’t sign these agreements. Countries, not overzealous, fanatical groups. Not terrorists.

    I also emphasize the fact that these agreements were signed by civilized countries because of the idea of reciprocity. Namely, if one country agrees to treat POW’s humanely, the enemy country/countries will also treat their POW’s humanely as well. Up to this point, even with the Soviet Union, this was understood and adhered to at least to some degree.

    This fiction that our current enemies would afford us rights under the Geneva Conventions is laughable. We have already seen what they have done to our prisoners: Forced conversion by the sword or else off with the head. (In my book, I think if we were to fight another European war, we would see just how fictitious the Geneva Conventions has become.)

    It seems we are the only nation concerned with the Geneva Conventions anymore. I don’t think China, Russia, and even Europe gives much of a fig about the Geneva Conventions; only that it hampers our efforts.

    If we think that adhering to just our USMJ instead of the Geneva Convention would decay our moral values, I think we’ve got to look at history more carefully.

    Mrs. Bookworm, you said made a passing reference to our Japanese internment camps as an example of Executive Power during wartime (AND for the record, the Japanese DID sabotage our industries all along the West Coast, and they also gave targeting information to the U-Boats of not just our fleet in Pearl Harbor but all over Latin America. Being that they were an insular ethnic group, I believe we acted correctly and humanely. Can you imagine what ordinary people would have done to Japanese people after Pearl Harbor and if we allowed all the sabotage to continue? I ain’t even talking about what the government would have done. I’m talking about the people.)

    Let’s dig a bit deeper and examine the internment camps we put the Germans spies in. What? That’s right, we didn’t have any? We killed them all… in cold blood. The Nazi did have a huge espionage apparatus here in the states, in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Our intelligence sources identified the German infiltrators well before the war, and within months of our declaration of war, all these people disappeared in the dead of night. No Geneva Conventions rights extended to them. And definitely none of our Constitutional rights. To even suggest that we extend Constitutional rights to non-uniformed combatants, i.e. terrorists, just illuminates our slide in values and our inability to distinguish right from wrong.

    In many ways, we have lost confidence that our way, the American way is better. Terrorists are not American citizens, and I think it awfully presumptuous to extend our Constitution to people who denigrate our Constitution. Terrorists have not consented to be citizens, and we have not offered it to them.

    We love to clean up our history, don’t we? We succeeded in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II because we didn’t take any back talk, because those who opposed us died. We didn’t have any of our PC baggage. We had confidence that what we were doing was right. We even rebuilt their nation and all of Europe through the Marshall Plan. But let’s not have any illusions. What we said went after the war, and, wonder of wonders, it worked. Sadr would not have lasted five minutes if he was a German Nazi after the war.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents… well, maybe fifty cents.

  6. Thomas: As I said, I don’t believe we have any legal obligation to exercise the Geneva Convention vis a vis captured terrorists. Although, now that the Supreme Court has spoken, I guess we do. Part of my belief in this regard is precisely for the reason you articulated: reciprocity. The Geneva Convention is intended to ensure that, if I capture your guys, I will treat them with a defined level of decency, safe in the knowledge that you will do the same should you capture my guys. That doesn’t hold true with Al Qaeda and Co., which are just butchers.

    Nevertheless, I hold to my belief that, since the Supreme Court has foisted the Geneva Convention on us anyway, it’s not a bad standard to hold ourselves to. It keeps us from sliding down a slippery slope, where we begin acting as butchers too. Once we go that route, we stop becoming the White Knights (which I believe we are), and start becoming indistinguishable from the bad guys. At that moment, we’re no longer fighting to preserve our safety and liberties; we’re just fighting to kill, and are no better than any other animals on the field.

  7. I just don’t know, Mrs. Bookworm. Even though I think the Geneva Conventions is a decent guideline for conduct between nations, I just don’t have confidence that other nations would adhere to them should further war be unleashed upon us. There goes reciprocity. I don’t have much doubt about what Russia or China or Iran or Europe or the Sudan would do to our prisoners should we go to war with them. In my opinion, reciprocity is increasingly not a very good reason to adhere to the Geneva Conventions.

    To my way of thinking, the second reason you cited here is much more compelling. If we want to remain the “White Knights” we must necessarily behave like “White Knights” otherwise we would be no better than our butcher adversary. Broadly speaking, I quite agree. We must hold ourselves to a higher level of honor rather than follow the mendacity of our enemies. That is true.

    However, I am also of a mind that we must also shock our enemies to surrender. I remember an Iranian national once saying on Book TV (I think) that we’ve concocted this myth that the reason for our success and prominence in the world is because of our Liberty and our Freedom. He said further that the real reason for our prominence is because we have created the must efficient and fearsome military machine the world has ever seen. I think there is much truth in this. For instance, we dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and firebombed Tokyo well after we ratified the Geneva Conventions.

    I have a friend who was an intelligence officer during the first Gulf War. He told me about an exchange he had with a British officer where he said, “We forget, you know. You’re so gentle. You let pipsqueak nations push you around, and then you land on the field of battle… and you’re ferocity incarnate!” People forget that it was also during Desert Storm I that we did the “Highway of Death” where we massacre tens of thousands of Republican Guards, who were more or less disarmed, with our A-10’s, and then bulldozed their bodies over into the sand. They just came from butchering thousands of women and children from Kuwait.

    I think we did it because we are the “White Knights”. And I don’t think we were made butchers by killing butchers. I also don’t think we’ve compromised ideals of liberty and freedom by doing so. If anything, we did it for liberty’s sake.

    What would the word of the President be if it’s not back up by resolute implacable action?

    For instance, during the War of 1812, the British were killing our POW’s because they accused those captured of being treasonous British subjects. Madison responded by ordering the hanging of 2 British POW for every American killed.

    And I don’t think Madison, or our A-10 pilots, or our pilots doing the firebombings were bloodthirsty. I think we should make dishonorable action on the part of our enemies so expensive that they do act honorably for fear of our reaction. I don’t think this makes us no better than our enemies.

    There is a sharp difference between retributive action and harsh reprisals for enemy atrocities and killing for killing’s sake. One is preventative against future atrocities, the other is just bloodthirstiness. To my way of thinking, the main caution we have to watch for is if one tips into the other.

  8. You have a point, Thomas, but I have a visceral dislike for retributive death, and that dislike just doesn’t respond to logic. My anti-rational viewpoint stems from the fact that the Nazis liked to kill exponential numbers of Jews for every Jew who was accused of killing a Nazi. For example, if a Polish Jew in the resistance killed a Nazi, the Nazis would destroy a Jewish village. We know, of course, that the Nazis needed no reasons to kill Jews, and were planning on annihilating all of them anyway. Nevertheless, retribution along the lines of “you kill 1 of mine and I’ll kill 10 of yours” always sounds Nazi-like to me. I know that’s not rational, but I can’t get away from that feeling.

  9. Bookworm,

    Let me be the first to say that I am SO very grateful that I’m not in a position to make these kinds of decisions. I don’t think I’d have much of a stomach for it… You’re reticence and feeling on the subject is understandable, and you were quite right before when you described this as a slippery slope. One can easily tip from calculated retribution to bloodthirstiness, and I think the people in charge should keep a very clear eye on it.

    War creates difficult circumstances and difficult decisions. People talk about the fog of war and don’t really know what it means. It’s not a tidy thing. It’s a bloody affair and so much of the time almost all the choices of a commander or of a President would be bad to worse. What we discussed in a horrible tactic to resort to, but I really don’t see any other way to win a total war…

  10. I’m doing research into the GC right now, because I started commenting but realized I needed more information. Specifically, historical information.

    So far I will make one point.

    Or to put it in a simpler form, when the United States follows codes of discipline and order (USCMJ), the US is following its own laws. It is not following the Geneva Conventions, at all. Because the Geneva Conventions requires reciprocity in order to function as designed, but the United States does not care about reciprocity and is not doing anything to attempt to get it.

    Nevertheless, I hold to my belief that, since the Supreme Court has foisted the Geneva Convention on us anyway, it’s not a bad standard to hold ourselves to.

    The US doesn’t need the Geneva Conventions to prevent some kind of slide into barbarity.

    It all began in June 1859, when a merchant named Henry Dunant was traveling through the war-ravaged plain of Normandia, north of Italia, after the battle of Solferino. Seeing thousands of wounded soldiers left dying in the mercy of fate, he appealed to the local inhabitants to come and help, insisting that combatants from both sides should be taken care of. There and then it crossed the Dunant’s mind an idea about the creation of the Red Cross;. so he decided to tell the world about experienced horrors of war and wrote a book “A memory of Solferino”, let it be mentioned here that with this work he initiated the news reports’ epoch. In his book, published in 1862, he made two solemn appeals; firstly, for relief societies to be formed in the peacetime with nurses who would be ready to care for the wounded in wartime. Secondly, for these volunteers, who would be called upon to assist the military medical services, to be recognized and protected through an international agreement. These ideas soon materialized in the creation of the “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded”, which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    In response to an invitation from the International Committee, representatives from sixteen countries and four philanthropic institutions gathered at an International Conference in Geneva in 1863. This event marked the founding of the Red Cross as an institution. But this was only the first step. Henry Dunant and the other members of the Committee wanted official and international recognition of the Red Cross and its ideals. They wanted a Convention to be adopted which would ensure the protection of medical services on the battlefield.

    To this end the Swiss government agreed to convene a Diplomatic Conference which was held in Geneva in 1864. Representatives of twelve governments took part and adopted a treaty prepared by the International Committee and entitled the “Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field”. This agreement, with its ten articles, was the first treaty of international humanitarian law. Subsequently, further conferences were held, extending the basic law to other categories of victims, such as prisoners of war. In 1899 in the Hague it was signed the next Convention, adjusting Geneva Convention’s principles to the war-action at sea. In 1906, the ten articles of the First Convention were improved and complemented. And in 1907 under the terms of this Convention,. In the Hague it were determined all combatants’ categories who had the war-prisoner’s status when detained as well as the right for the adequate treatment during their captivity. In 1929, these Conventions were developed further and affirmed one more time.

    Why didn’t the US slide into barbarity if we needed the GC to keep ourselves up to snuff?

    The American Civil War (1861–1865)

    The US didn’t sign the first GC until the 1880s. The point is, the Geneva Convention(s) was not the same as the rules of landware. The rules of landware goes all the way back to Athens and Sparta in Western civilization. Oliver Cromwell is also a good example of medieval siege etiquette in those days.

    Let’s try to read into some of the people who promoted the GC. Would they have been satisfied with one side helping people but not the other, based upon the morality of the sides? I think not. If they were satisfied with that, they wouldn’t have tried to make things internatinal, applicable to all parties in the conflict. But their motivations were humanitarian in nature, not winning the war.

    Total War philosophy and the Geneva Conventions have some things in common, but they are almost diametrically different concerning the means and methods. Total War says that the more horrible war is, the sooner it will end, and thus the less suffering. Geneva Conventions say that the more humane war is, the less suffering there is, and the more inhumanity and massacres are shown and dealt with, the less likely people are to get into wars or the more likely wars will end (latter is not likely).

    They are diametrically opposite because one seeks to make war more humane and less hellish, while the other purposefully seeks to increase the horror of war.

    There were two limitations however, that were present for both methods. First, Sherman didn’t slaughter folks reminiscent of Ghenghis Khan (kerry) because he thought that if he just killed enough people, the war would stop. Second, the Geneva Convention founders must also have recognized that you can’t make nations do things they don’t want to do, and if you want people, captives, and civilians treated well, you have to give reasons to the nations and their militaries to abide by such agreements. This means that you don’t just get on the United States’ case about how we’re bad and ignore everybody else, that attempts to force laws upon the US, and is therefore unproductive concerning how to relieve suffering. Alienating one or both parties in the conflict will not do any good.

    So those two limits were what kept Total War and the GC reasonable. Meaning, workable. Those limits were based upon human nature and human behavior. Such as, you can’t make people do what you want, which is to save civilians, if you try to force them to do it. Since to force them, you have to wage war and violence on them, which is kind of inconsistent with your goal of alleviating suffering in war. For Total War, Sherman and MacArthur had to recognize that there is a point to which you can’t push people. If you slaughter all their women and children, they may give up, but most probably they will go beserk and try to fight to the death. They knew, as most military commanders know, that unless you want to suffer a lot of casualties fighting a surrounded enemy, you leave that enemy an escape route for them to run to. There’s no reason to kill every enemy soldier, so no reason to take unnecessary casualties if the enemy wants to run away and stop fighting. Therefore horror in war for Total War is a psychological weapon, it is not a goal in itself. It is to get people to stop fighting, as with Hiroshima. It is not to piss off the people of Al Anbar so that they side with the Americans to fight Al Qaeda, when you are Al Qaeda.

    Bookworm’s fears seems inconsistent with her post. If she wrote and believes that America can spring back as we sprung back in the past without the help of the Geneva Conventions, then why does she believe that we need to “follow” the GCs now, to prevent from sliding into barbarity?

  11. (3) Guillaume Dufour, speech at the opening of the Geneva Convention (26th October, 1863)

    Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret. They have entirely misunderstood our intentions.

    In as much as conflicts of arms are inevitable, so long as human passions and interests continue as they are, it is at least the duty of the intelligent and liberal minds of all nations to unite in endeavoring to migrate, as far as possible, the horrors of such conflicts, and to stimulate philanthropic effort in behalf of their victims. Already a great step has been taken in the right direction. The wounded are no longer maltreated, whatever may be the animosities of the parties engaged. The victor collects the enemy’s wounded, and treats them with the same care as his own.

    The aids of charity are not wanting, being generously extended both by the regular physicians in charge, and by the noble imitators of Florence Nightingale, a name universally cherished and venerated. But this is not enough. We must advance a step further, and seek to obtain for the wounded the benefits of neutrality, so that we have extended the pitying hand to them in their hour of misfortune, when we have bathed their wounds and relieved their sufferings, we may guarantee their future liberty from all restrictions. On more than one occasion in the past, the neutrality of the ambulance services and of the wounded has been admitted, and commanders of opposing armies have signed cartels or special conventions, guaranteeing these points in particular cases.

    Somebody didn’t tell Amnesty International, the International Red Cross (as opposed to the American version), and the ACLU that about the United States, obviously.

  12. The ironic thing is that Guillaume Dufour in order to guarantee the “neutrality” of the wounded and the captives, would almost have to take the US’s side in this conflict against the Islamic Jihad, if his interest in humanitarian treatment of prisoners is to be fullfilled. It’s kind of like the argument that we have to nuke Japan to save it. We want the war to end, so we’ll increase the killing. Doesn’t seem intuitive in a way, but that’s just human nature operates. Non-intuitively. Or maybe the better word would be illogically.

    Also Total War and the sentiments behind the GC were once at diametric opposites in means, but also curiously the same in terms of their goals. The dissimilarities came about less because of which side they were on, than because of the basic differences between doctors, humanitarians, and soldiers. The soldier must do his duty and fight, yet he fights to end the war, which would end the suffering. The doctor fights to save individual lives, and therefore alleviate suffering in that manner.

    I guess at its base, it’s a role difference. Total War aims to kill the enemy to save both allies and enemies. The Geneva Convention founders wished to save everyone.

  13. but I have a visceral dislike for retributive death, and that dislike just doesn’t respond to logic.

    We’re not at the point where retributive death is the only option we have. The Nazis used that cause they were lazy and/or incompetent at catching the partisans. We have thousands of partisans and agents that we know have killed people. Their executions will not be because of their “buddies” actions. Anymore than Saddam’s execution was because we were pissed at the Baathists killing Americans, or the Iraqis and Kurds being pissed at their families being killed.

    If you don’t kill people who need killing, Book, then justice will not be served. And without justice, people will no longer obey the laws that are now too unjust.

  14. Seems like a bunch of name calling to me, bookworm. Talk is cheap, life is short. How about we focus on making this country better? I don’t care who voted for what three years ago. This war is not working for anyone unless it is the young kids able to steal relief supplies in Iraq so they may grow up to hate and bomb our grand kids.

    I am unhappy with anyone, Republican or Democrat, that voted funds and authority behind the war in Iraq, but name calling seems unproductive compared to turning this tide.

    C. Tennis
    rural Washington

  15. […] Done With Mirrors’s post, “Earth Day” (for which I voted). Second place honors went to Bookworm Room for “Presidential Power and Criminal […]

  16. […] points out that climate change is as old as the earth itself. Second place went to me, for my post Presidential Power and Criminal Terrorists, in which I discussed the expansion of presidential powers during war time, and the reason I think […]

  17. “…the old system of dealing with captured enemy combatants — summary execution.”

    You are either short on history or joking. Exchange of prisoners – with or without ransom – was the rule in warfare from Greek times at least. On the rare occasions when it was broken, as with Syracuse’s savage treatment of the captured Athenians, it was because the enemy was felt to have waged a war beyond the limits of legality and decency (in the case of Syracuse, the Athenians had attacked the city without provocation). When the prisoners could not be exchanged or ransomed, they were sold as slaves. The mass murder of enemy prisoners never features even in the darkest periods of Western history: one just has to remember the astonishment every historian feels at the single mention of Charlemagne executing 4000 Saxons – but the text is dubious, and even if he did, he had plenty of provocation – and the universal disgust which greeted, centuries later, Henry V’s murder of prisoners at Azincourt.

  18. Exchange of prisoners – with or without ransom – was the rule in warfare from Greek times at least.

    Book said combatants, not soldiers. You know, like the Greek translator for the Persians, that the Athenians executed around the time of the Xerxes invasion.

    Do people that think others are short on history, ever realize that there could be problems with their reading comprehension being shot?

  19. It is true, Y, that the medieval chivalric standard saw ransoms for POWs, but that was the rule only for the rich and powerful — that is, for the knightly class. Ordinary soldiers were not in look. As Fabio says, ordinary soldiers often ended up as slaves, which is better than slaughter but, given the conditions of slavery (especially galley slaves) not much better, while the rank and file were often just killed. If I remember my history well, Henry V was famous for solving the vexing problem of continued battle by killing opposing soldiers wholesale.

  20. If you read 1634 the Baltic War by Eric Flint, he portrays the ransom thing as purely a function of greed. Soldiers won’t kill captives and will safeguard their lives cause they want the money, because the loot system back then was that whatever ransom was acquired from a captive, goes primarily to the soldiers that captured the prisoner. Course, the officers get their cut. Captain’s share and all. (pirate system reference)

    Don’t know how many, but many Templar Knights refused to be ransomed when captured by Saladin, a Kurd, during Richard the Lionhearted’s Crusade. Saladin executed them, probably using damascene steel scimitars, which were far superior to the swords that the Europeans used at the time. (European swords at that time weren’t sharp enough to cut through a man’s head like you saw on 300 Frank Miller version, so they were using nothing but brute strength, fanaticism, and the speed of the horse to get it dug in)

    Regardless of the soldier vs combatant vs ransom vs non-ransom system, what was true back then was that if you violated the Rules of War, they no longer applied to you. This occured during the Peloponessian War between Athens and Sparta, when Athens refused to fight lawfully hoplite to hoplite against Sparta’s ranks sitting outside their city walls. And it also occured whenever a city in medieval times, refused to surrender after their walls were breached. This led to Cromwell almost annihilating the city’s population.

  21. […] The votes are in from this Week’s Watchers Council and the winner in the Council category is “Earth Day” by Done With Mirrors. Finishing second was “Presidential Power and Criminal Terrorists” by Bookworm Room. […]

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