POWs and another letter from Erbil
The big story today is the capture of U.S. soldiers by Iraqi troops around an Nasiriya. Al Jazeera and Iraqi TV showed footage of the soldiers — as well as bodies said to be soldiers. Two of the troops iD’ed their unit at the 507th Maintenance. A woman was among those captured.
In a separate incident, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that some soldiers were missing, but said the number was “fewer than 10.” (Stratfor reports that the number is actually 12, and that the soldiers took a wrong turn and are now lost.)
Regarding the American captives, on Meet the Press today, Rumsfeld said the Iraqis had an obligation, under the Geneva Conventions, to respect the rights of any POWs. “”It’s illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating to those prisoners,” he said.
Under Article 3 of the Conventions, each warring party “shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
- Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
- Taking of hostages;
- Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
- The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
“The United States of course avoids showing prisoners of war,” Rumsfeld said. “We have thousands of Iraqi prisoners that are in POW camps … but we avoid showing photographs of them.”
Hm. While I agree that Iraq should follow the letter and spirit of the Conventions, the U.S. has been less than thorough in keeping true to these protocols itself, weakening its case. The prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay have been held in a legal limbo for months now. Some have been shipped to other countries that employ horrific interrogation methods. Human Rights Watch has urged the Bush Administration to determine the detainees’ status and then launch criminal prosecution “where credible evidence exists.” Indefinite detention is not legal under the Conventions, despite President Bush’s claim to be upholding the “principles” of the Third Convention. As the report from HRW said:
This shortsighted transgression sets a dangerous precedent that could come back to haunt U.S. and allied service-members who are captured by enemy forces in this or future wars. Washington’s refusal to treat the detainees as POWs is perplexing because it would in no way inhibit legitimate U.S. efforts to interrogate or prosecute people who have participated in terrorist acts.
In other news, Iraqi resistance is stiffening, as the battle for Basra rages on. Col. Khaled al-Hashemi, Iraqi commander of the 51st Mechanized Division near that city, said March 23 that his division, reported earlier to have surrendered, would continue to fight against U.S. and British forces. “I am with my men in Basra; we continue to defend the people and riches” of the town, Al-Hashemi said. [Stratfor]
Also: “Combat in An Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq has extended to the cities of Samava, Bataha and Sot al-Sheikh and Hour in the southern province of An Najaf. According to reports released by military sources inside Iraq listening to allied radio, U.S. and British forces have called for reinforcements, more armament, artillery and helicopter gun-ships.”
U.S. Special Forces are flying into Iraqi Kurdistan to be deployed around the town of Halabja, according to senior PUK officials. (Likely a backup for actions against Ansar al-Islam. KDP peshmergas have allegedly fought off a small Iraqi attack near Tepe Garus, about 15 kilometers from Arbil. [ibid.]
Also, I heard from Djoy, the Kurdish man in Arbil, who wrote to me last week:
Thanks for writing and thanks for your safety wishes. I got back to Erbil city this morning because it was no longer bearable or logical to stay in that village especially after we noticed the very slow pace of the war! anyhow we are still taking precautions.
I hope you will make it to Iraq soon but please take care of yourself as its a real dangerous situation here and completely unpredictable! maybe I will see you in Iraq and hope I can be of help.
You too keep safe,
More supplies to buy today (Gotta restock the first aid kit.) Then tomorrow and Tuesday I’ll be tying up loose ends. Still looking at a Wednesday departure. I’m only waiting on PayPal funds to clear and the laptop to arrive.