Thursday, December 02, 2004

An article in the wall Street Journal today:

Red Double-Crossed Again.

It is a good article in its own right, and I recommend reading it. A choice quote (bolding mine):
To unpack the absurdities here, it helps to understand what the Geneva Conventions say about legitimate prisoners of war. The basic idea behind granting POW status is that soldiers who surrender or are captured are not to be punished so long as they have behaved according to certain rules--such as fighting in uniform and doing their best to direct their own attacks at enemy soldiers rather than civilians. Part of their protection from punishment is that they not be subject to coercive interrogation; they are required only to give name, rank and serial number. They may, however, be held for the duration of the conflict so that they do not return to the battlefield.

The POW concept is certainly a great humanitarian advance, since the slaughter of captured enemies used to be routine and since it provides some incentive to fair battlefield conduct. But it is a concept in jeopardy thanks to its ostensible guardians at the ICRC. By demanding POW status for un-uniformed combatants who target civilians--in contravention of the plain language of the Geneva Conventions--the ICRC started the fight over Guantanamo by attempting to remove one of the few carrots we have to encourage humane behavior in war.

Now it goes further and demands that these combatants get even more privileges than legitimate POWs. Has it occurred to no one in Geneva that indefinite detention can't possibly be "tantamount to torture" for illegal combatants if it is the expected course of events for real POWs? The prospect of Guantanamo detainees returning to the battlefield is real, and more than two dozen of those already released have done so.

What does have to do with the parsha though? Well, it fits in with a point I was making the other day in a comment on another blog. One of my posts on Vayishlach, about a midrash rabba saying that Dinah had gone out with her arm (or shoulder) exposed, prompted note over the Velveteen Rabbi. In my reply (in the comments), one thing I mentioned was that with Dinah still captive, the brothers can be seen to have been mounting a rescue attempt. The killing of all the men of Shechem rather than taking them captive seems to have been a common aspect of warfare of the time, since they were combatants who would otherwise regroup and attack later. That is, the whole affair need not be spun as an honor killing.

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