A barbaric enemy disqualified from Geneva Conventions

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon Wednesday announced the names of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with the April 26 kidnapping and murder of a 52-year-old Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania. The accusations are grave and, if proved, will almost certainly lead to severe sentences. We suspect no parallel process is taking place among Iraqi insurgents for the weekend murders near Yusufiya of U.S. soldiers Thomas L. Tucker and Kristian Menchaca.

That's a distinction worth pondering the next time you hear Iraq war critics carp at the U.S. refusal to apply Geneva Convention privileges to enemy combatants. The Convention extends those privileges to combatants who abide by the laws it sets for war, including the treatment of prisoners.

Combatants who fail to obey those laws -- by not wearing distinctive military insignia or targeting civilians -- are not entitled to its privileges. If they were, the very purpose of the Convention would be rendered a nonsense. And this is why the U.S. has refused Geneva privileges to the enemy combatants at Guantanamo, which we hope is an argument heeded by the Supreme Court as it decides the Hamdan case.

Especially so given the kinds of combatants the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world now face in Iraq. Privates Tucker and Menchaca were not simply ambushed, taken prisoner and killed. "The torture was something unnatural," said Major General Abdul Azziz Mohammed Jassim of Iraq's Defense Ministry, hinting at the state of the soldiers' remains. The corpses were so mutilated that they could be positively identified only through DNA testing.

Here, then, is the enemy we face in Iraq: not nationalists or extremists or even fanatics, but something like a band of real-life Hannibal Lecters for whom human slaughter is both business and religious fulfillment. Following the killing, an Internet statement said to be from the Mujahadeen Shura Council praised Abu Hamza al-Muhajir -- who is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor as head of Al Qaeda in Iraq -- with "the implementation of the sentence." Note the legalistic pretensions: This is the kind of "justice" Iraqis could expect should the insurgents come to power. And it is the enemy that might well come to power if the U.S. left Iraq prematurely, as many Senate Democrats urged.

No wonder so many Iraqis are risking their lives by joining the military and the police force to defend themselves against their would-be masters, a point that's too often forgotten by critics of the war. Thus, following the slaughter of Tucker and Menchaca, U.S. Rep. John Murtha issued a statement, notably short on grief, insinuating that Iraqis are a nation of conniving killers.

"I continue to be concerned with the fact that our military men and women fighting in Iraq often tell me they do not know who the enemy is," said the Pennsylvania Democrat, who favors immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. "They do not know whom they can trust. ... One day the Iraqis are smiling and waving at them on the streets; the next day the same people are throwing grenades at them." Murtha might have checked his facts before issuing this generalized slur.

According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site (icasualties.org/oif/), in 2005 there were 3,510 Iraqi military and police fatalities, almost all at the hands of terrorists. That's four times the number of U.S. servicemen killed that year, and it gives the lie to the notion that Iraqis are doing little in their own defense while Coalition forces do all the heavy lifting.

Meantime, the U.S. military continues to examine allegations that Marines killed 24 civilians in the town of Haditha last November. Pentagon investigators have also uncovered evidence of detainee abuse by U.S. Special Forces in early 2004 - just as the Army was the first to disclose the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib.

For some, all this is just more evidence of inveterate U.S. barbarity or the criminal abuses made possible by Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales. In fact, it testifies to a U.S. military and executive branch willing to investigate, disclose and prosecute errant military behavior, whatever the military or political price. That's something Mr. Murtha and his fellow-travelers in Congress and the media might not recognize. But a majority of Iraqis do, which is why, in the battle against the killers of Privates Tucker and Menchaca, they line up to fight on our side.

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