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October 3, 2006
How The Geneva Convention Protects Western Troops

A coroner's inquest in the UK concluded that two British soldiers, captured by Iraqis in March 2003, were executed by Saddam's officers after a few hours of torture. The finding confirms accusations made by Tony Blair during the operation:

IRAQI officers loyal to Saddam Hussain filmed their cold-blooded murder of two British bomb disposal officers who were captured after a roadside ambush.

An inquest was told that Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, thought that they were being taken to hospital for treatment, but instead they were moved to a compound run by Saddam’s military intelligence.

The harrowing ordeal lasted for hours until Iraqi agents killed the pair. The soldiers were buried in a shallow grave.

The Geneva Conventions do not appear to have helped Allsopp and Cullingworth. Iraq entered into the covenant in 1956, and so operated under its strictures, at least in theory. Neither Iran nor Iraq bothered to fake compliance during their long war despite both having adopted the GC, and Saddam didn't worry too much about it in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The British soldiers were captured during open hostilities and in uniform, and should have received POW status. Instead, Saddam's officer corps decided to execute them, and to film their crime as well.

This shows yet again that many signatories to the GC rarely apply them during conflicts, preferring to fall back on their own brutal traditions. Treating the GC as some sort of talisman that will ward off the brutality of tyrants allows people to fall prey to a utopianism that simply does not exist in modern warfare between any nations except those in the West -- and since the advent of democracy, those nations do not war with each other. And even at that, Germany certainly qualified as a Western country during World War II and still dispensed with the GC in all but the thinnest veneer of appearances.

The coroner's finding and the film of the execution does bring up another question. Can Britain charge Saddam Hussein and the army officers in custody with war crimes? Saddam likely will not survive the trials he already faces with the Iraqis, but the British should consider formal charges against Saddam and his henchmen for this crime. If people want to invoke the GC to limit the options of Western nations in defending themselves, then the Western nations need to prosecute the enemies we face for violating them as well. If the British feel their invocation in this case would serve no purpose, then why abide by the GC at all?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 3, 2006 5:07 AM

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