I am pleased to announce that the host of the current Carnival of the Godless has named my blog entry as the best entry in the Carnival.
Iraq War: 3 Years and Counting
As the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War came and went, the news was filled with stories that largely related to a subject I had covered months ago.
On October 17th, I posted an article on “Military vs. Civilian Choices”. The main point of that posting was to point out that there is a major difference between military choices and civilian choices in the pains that one goes through to ensure that only the guilty are punished and the innocent are able to go about their lives. The military calls the loss of civilian life and property “collateral damage” and go about their business. Civilian law enforcement in a just society call such actions “gross negligence”, fire the individuals involved, and offer compensation to the victims (or their surviving relatives).
In a post on February 23rd called “Iraq Mosque Attacks and Civil War,” I argued that the risk of civil war in Iraq was specifically tied to their lack of respect for the principle, “Punish the guilty: let the innocent go free.” Strengthening a society’s respect for this principle is the best way to strengthen civil order in a society. People then come to realize that being innocent will help to ensure their safety.
In January, 2006, I read news reports of an Allied air strike on a village in northern Pakistan that killed 18 people, including 5 children. American officials believed that there were 4 or 5 Al Queda operatives there at the time. They also knew about the presence of the children, but considered the strike to be important enough to justify this collateral damage.
This stands both to illustrate the difference between martial versus civil authority. It also clearly violates the principle of “Punish the guilty, let the innocent go free.”
Yet, clearly, there are instances in which it is permissible to take action, even to kill an innocent person. The example that I always use is that of a cop, looking down from a balcony as a kid puts money into a vending machine wired to detonate a nuclear weapon in another city. The area is crowded and noisy, and there is no way to stop the child but to shoot him. If I was the cop, I would shoot. I would hate myself. I would probably need loads of counseling to get over it. I might not even be able to live with myself. However, I would kill the kid.
At the same time, it is not legitimate to throw a hand-grenade into a crowd in order to stop a purse snatcher. Similarly, it would not have been legitimate for the FBI to take out John Dillinger when he was Number 1 on the FBI 10-most-wanted list by blowing up the theater where he had gone to watch a movie. At some point, we are going to say that we are going to use civil methods for dealing with these people, rather than military methods.
One of the results of this air strike was a massive surge in anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries. Even if the United States killed four or five Al-Queda members, it is quite reasonable to expect that this act – its violation of the principle “Punish the guilty, let the innocent go free,” will mean more than enough recruits to make up for the shortfall.
The damage is not only to the number of recruits, but the attitudes of those who were on the fence. The damage is reflected in the number of people who might have reported something they may have discovered about Al Queda, but who now keep that information secret. The damage comes from those who would have said, “I do not want to be a part of it”, who will now give some minor assistance -- a little bit of money, a meal, the use of one’s vehicle – to Al Queda.
Recently, in Iraq, the U.S. military reported another air strike that killed another 11 civilians – some children.
I have wondered, from time to time, if certain religious doctrines might make it a bit easier to kill civilians ... even children. Doesn't God himself release a plague that kills children as a way of convincing the Pharaoh of Egypt to "let my people go"? Were there no children in Soddom and Gammorah?
During the Albigensian Crusade in southern France -- a crusade by Christians against other Christians -Abbot Arnaud-Amaury faced a situation where he had a group of prisoners and no way to sort the right type of Christian from the wrong type of Christian. His answer was to say, "Slay them all! God will know his own." It's a way of saying that we do not need to worry about sorting the guilty from the innocent -- that we may kill guilty and innocent alike and leave the sorting to God. I wonder if this might not be the way President Bush can sleep at night after hearing about another group of children killed because of the choices he made.
Let us make no mistake – the enemy in this war also kills civilians. They target civilians. That is unforgivable, allowing no argument to be made that they are the good guys and we are the bad guys. Yet, there is still room to claim, “the lesser evil is still evil.” The best way to communicate the message that we are the good guys and that we deserve to win – and that the citizens of Iraq should side with us – is by actually being the good guys. This means insisting that the institution of civil law with its determined effort to separate the guilty from the innocent be used.
To mark the 3rd Anniversary of the start of the war, the military decided to launch a military campaign against insurgents north of Baghdad. According to Time Magazine, it seems to have been a publicity ploy – lots of noise for the news to report to make the people think Bush is doing something, when there really was not much behind it.
One of the results was netting, according to the report, 48 suspected insurgents – 17 of which had been released by the time the story got reported. The practice seems to have been to sweep through an area, round up everybody who looks guilty, then release those who can convince their captors that they are innocent. The rest are hauled off to some detention center where they can expect to be kept indefinitely, where evidence suggests that they can expect to be subject to quite brutal treatment unless they confess their crimes – confessions that may well be lies told in an effort to avoid further torture.
In three years of conflict, we have yet to make a determined attempt to institute the rule of law in Iraq.
It seems strange to argue that we are there to establish a system that those Americans who are there refuse to use. In fact, what we seem to be telling the people of Iraq and the world that those things that America claims to believe -- things about human rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and not to be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law -- those things are things we do not really believe.
We say them a lot. Yet, I am seeing all sorts of evidence that the American people do not actually believe in these principles -- at least not any more. We certainly do not believe in them enough to insist on practicing them.