January 29, 2006
On the taking of hostages
I do not usually post on current politics and such, as I seldom am
in the position to comment in a timely manner. By the time I work out a
detailed expression of how I feel, the discussion has moved on.
time I simply do not care. I am simply too angry about this right now.
What follows is a more detailed discussion of just why I am angry, and
what I am angry about.
The StoryThe reports began in 2004. The Christian Science Monitor's Annia Ciezadlo wrote about Texas-born US citizen Jeanan Moayad's experience when US troops wanted to question her 66 year old geologist father:
told me it was because he was a Baathist," she says. "They told me my
father didn't do anything, but they just wanted to know information
about another person."Note,
a person detained not for what they have done, but to influence the
actions of someone else. There were other reports of wives of leading
suspects being held to encourage their husbands to surrender.
When the troops learned her father was
out of the country, says Moayad, they arrested her husband. As Moayad's
mother began to cry, they promised to bring him back the next day,
saying they just wanted to ask him a few questions.
For the next
18 days, Ibrahim was held at a Baghdad detention facility. On Feb. 17,
says Moayad, three soldiers came to her house and gave her a letter in
her husband's handwriting. After greeting her and the children with
"peace and kisses," the letter says he will be sent to Abu Ghraib
"until the arrival of my father-in-law."
"I'm going to be there
in his place until he surrenders himself," reads the letter. "Please
tell him that I am in his place and that I'll be released when he
arrives here, since I am not the wanted person, as you know from all
who spoke to you about my case. Please inform my father-in-law to
surrender himself of his own free will, and that will make things much
easier for him. They don't mistreat someone who surrenders of his own
free will, but just the opposite - they only want to ask him questions."
Well those reports turn out to be true. Today it was reported that Department of Defense documents disclose that women were held in order to induce cooperation from their husbands:
a memo written in June 2004 and released Friday, an officer with the
Defense Intelligence Agency, whose name was redacted, described the
arrest of a 28-year-old woman from Tamiya, northwest of Baghdad. She
had three young children, including one who was nursing. Once
again the same pattern -- one person is not available, so a relative is
detained in hopes that the real target will turn themselves in.
forces raided her in-laws' home, calling her husband the "primary
target." Before the raid, soldiers had decided that if the woman were
at the in-laws' home, they'd detain her "in order to leverage the
primary target's surrender," the memo's author wrote.
my initial screening of the occupants at the target house, I determined
that the wife could provide no actionable intelligence leading to the
arrest of her husband," the author of the memo wrote. "Despite my
protest, the raid team leader detained her anyway."
The woman was released two days later, the memo said.
the 2004 e-mail exchange, what appear to be American soldiers based in
northern Iraq discuss the detention of Kurdish female prisoners. The
names were redacted.
In an e-mail dated June 17, 2004, a U.S.
soldier wrote: "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband -
have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his
A soldier wrote two days later that he was getting more information from "these gals" that could "result in getting husband."
e-mails and the memo were among hundreds of documents that the Pentagon
released under a federal court order to meet an American Civil
Liberties Union request for information on detention practices.
Update: I finally found the other case I remember, the one that started this as an issue, from Saddam Aide's Family Arrested:
detention of the relatives of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (search), a
lifelong Saddam associate who is No. 6 on the list of most-wanted
Iraqis, was an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender or gather
intelligence that might lead to him. U.S. officials last week offered a
$10 million reward for information leading to al-Douri's capture.Same pattern as the others.
of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in Samarra, 70 miles north of
Baghdad, detained the women in a raid that also netted another al-Douri
associate, spokesman Lt. Col. William MacDonald said at the division's
headquarters in Tikrit.
MacDonald gave no details on why the
wife and daughter were seized, but American forces have frequently
arrested relatives of fugitives to interrogate them on their family
member's whereabouts and as a way of putting pressure on the wanted men
So the question is, what's wrong with this? That will be addressed in the next post
So, what's the problem?
In the previous post,
I wrote about news reports over the past couple of years that indicate
a pattern of US forces in Iraq detaining relatives of key suspects in
order to induce them to turn themselves in. So, what is wrong with that?
It's against the law,
that's what. No, I am not a international lawyer, nor do I play one in
a video game, but I became interested in the field both through grad
school and by growing up a military kid, with some time overseas. And
the nice part is that the documents on international humanitarian law
are all on the web, and are fairly straightforward.
the carnage of the Second World War, the nations of the world tried to
find some way to prevent it's recurrence. Along with the creation of
the United Nations, there was a recognition of the need for
strengthening international law concerning the waging of war. Since
1864, there had been a succession of agreements known as the Geneva and
Hague conventions, which laid out standards of treatment for the
wounded, prisoners, and noncombatants. The reversal of the Swiss flag
was adopted as a distinctive symbol indicating medical noncombatants --
the Red Cross. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was
formed to to monitor the implementation of these agreements.
In 1949, all of these agreements, along with other measures, were combined into the four Geneva Conventions, which provide the foundation for international humanitarian law. The four conventions:
these conventions cover quite a bit of territory, and include many
requirements and proscription. In particular, each convention defines
what are known as "grave breaches" -- the most serious offenses. Of interest in our current case are grave breaches of Convention IV on civilian persons:
- Convention I: For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field
- Convention II:For the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea
- Convention III: Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
- Convention IV:Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
Art. 147. Ah, there we go. A couple of technical notes before we go farther. This convention does appear to apply here as:
breaches to which the preceding Article relates shall be those
involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or
property protected by the present Convention: willful killing, torture
or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully
causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful
deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person,
compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile
Power, or willfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair
and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and
extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by
military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.(emphasis
So, the convention applies, and hostage
taking is a grave breach of the convention. What's the penalty for
this, a strongly worded telegram from Geneva?
- both the US and Iraq are "high contracting parties" -- we are both signatories to the conventions
- there was an armed conflict on the territory of one of the parties
- the US was acting as an occupying power, unquestionably up to the departure of Paul Bremer, and arguably up to the present hour
persons involved were noncombatant civilians -- they were taking no
active part in hostilities, unless you count knowing a suspected
combatant as taking an active part, in which case there might not be
any civilians at all.
War CrimesWell, how does up to life in a federal prison sound to you? Under Title 18 of the United States Code, chapter 118, section 2441,
a grave breach of the convention is defined a war crime, with fines and
jail time up to a life sentence attached. If somebody dies as a result,
the death penalty is available.
And the US military takes this
seriously, as well. (Or at least it used to.) A primary tool for
training military personnel in this subject is US Army Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare. What does it have to say?
273. HostagesSo let's review:
The taking of hostages is prohibited.
500. Conspiracy, Incitement, Attempts, and Complicity
direct incitement, and attempts to commit, as well as complicity in the
commission of, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war
crimes are punishable.
501. Responsibility for Acts of Subordinates
some cases, military commanders may be responsible for war crimes
committed by subordinate members of the armed forces, or other persons
subject to their control. Thus, for instance, when troops commit
massacres and atrocities against the civilian population of occupied
territory or against prisoners of war, the responsibility may rest not
only with the actual perpetrators but also with the commander. Such a
responsibility arises directly when the acts in question have been
committed in pursuance of an order of the commander concerned. The
commander is also responsible if he has actual knowledge, or should
have knowledge, through reports received by him or through other means,
that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit
or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and
reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish
506. Suppression of War Crimes
"Grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and other war crimes
which are committed by enemy personnel or persons associated with the
enemy are tried and punished by United States tribunals as violations
of international law.
If committed by persons subject to
United States military law, these "grave breaches" constitute acts
punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Moreover, most
of the acts designated as "grave breaches" are, if committed within the
United States, violations of domestic law over which the civil courts
can exercise jurisdiction.
The question for the next installment is, what is a hostage?
- as an occupying power, the US is subject to Geneva Convention IV;
- that convention defines holding civilians hostage as a grave breach;
civil and military law defines such grave breaches as war crimes,
punishable by up to life in prison -- military law extends
responsibility to commanders.
What is a hostage, anyway?
In the previous two posts on this topic, I reviewed current reports of US troops taking hostages in Iraq, and that international, US civil and US military law prohibit the taking of hostages. The question that comes up is, what is a hostage, anyway?
The basic definition is "a prisoner who is held by one party to insure that another party will meet specified terms." (Princeton WordNet)
Simple enough, but for many of us, we tend to add some enhancements to
this, thinking a hostage has to be under some kind of mortal threat, a
gun to the head, for example. But this is not necessary.
1979, the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages was
agreed to, with the US as a signatory. It isn't very long, with the
section relevant for us right at the start:
definition is applicable under US law -- it is specifically recognized
in a variety of US statues, and in court cases such as the 2003 case Simpson vs. Lybia as the standard applicable in military and international cases.
(again, emphasis mine)
- Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person (hereinafter
referred to as the "hostage") in order to compel a third party, namely,
a State, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or
juridical person, or a group of persons, to do or abstain from doing
any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offence of taking of hostages ("hostage-taking") within the meaning of this Convention.
- Any person who:
- attempts to commit an act of hostage-taking, or
as an accomplice of anyone who commits or attempts to commit an act of
hostage-taking likewise commits an offence for the purposes of this
Consider a few things about this definition.
So, let's take another look at the cases from Iraq.
In none of the cases is there any kind of threat of physical harm, but
the extent or duration of detention is specifically kept uncertain --
these persons can be held until some condition is satisfied. In more
than one case, the connection between the detention of the hostage, and
the need to apprehend the hostage's relative has been explicit and
specific. In one case, where we have emails released under court order,
that connection was clearly present before the hostage was detained.
is only necessary to detain, and threaten to continue to detain
someone. A threat of injury or death, to the hostage or someone else,
is not necessary.
- It is necessary that the intent of the
detention is to influence a third party. It is not necessary for it to
be the only intent.
- The threat can either be explicit or implicit.
this proof? Well, we are working from press reports and should always
remember that. These reports by themselves would not be enough to
convict anyone. But, in my opinion, they are more than enough
to provide cause for a serious investigation. There is no evidence of
such an investigation, but there is the stong appearance of what may be
a pattern of continuing behavior. That would indicate something more
serious than just some junior officer exceeding his authority.
besides irritating international lawyers and some bloggers, what is
wrong, what is immoral about this? That's the topic of the next