33 comments on “I think he\’s right you know

  1. I can’t help but feel the same policy would have spared us much angst and expense over Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, though…

  2. Shouldn’t there be a trial whether or not it “happened as told”, the point of trials being to determine whether allegations are in fact true?

    That’s assuming the allegations are vaguely credible, which if they’re in the Mail might not be the case.

  3. The chap does have a book to sell, but I’m sure that has no bearing on this.

    It’ll be interesting to see if his other recollection, that of several British soldiers killed when they went forward to take a white flag surrender, inspires as much outrage.

    It’s likely to be as true.

  4. Isn’t the whole concept of international war crimes a little odd?

    “You can’t do that! It’s against our rules.”
    “Well, why don’t you come and stop me.”

    That’s the basis on which all wars are fought – a fundamental disagreement about what you are and aren’t allowed to do.

    “You’re not allowed to invade Poland/The Falklands/Kuwait” or “You’re not allowed to gas jews/ hang POWs up on piano wire.” That’s the whole point of going to war.

    The irrelevance of international law doesn’t preclude your own moral compass or some morality based rules for the army or country for whom you are fighting. Stabbing/shooting a surrendering teenager sounds like a shitty thing to do but I’d prefer it if the rules surrounding it were defined by those who were asking the soldiers to be there in the first place.

    Which brings me to the larger matter, what’s the point of international law?

  5. But this well known tim and much the same and worse has been described in previous books about the Falklands war.

    And I’m afraid the army has a history of not taking prisoners, are they all to be charged?

  6. Hmm. Not sure about this. Certainly as the story is told then it appears there was scope to accept the surrender of prisoners, but I do think operational concerns are able to override the duty to accept surrenders in certain circumstances.

    There are two ways in which the British special forces raid compounds in Afghanistan. One is when the risk is considered low, in which case soldiers go from room to room and fire or not depending on what they encounter. The second, used when fanatics are thought to be inside, is to throw a grenade into each room and kill anyone who is in there, no exceptions. Yes, women get killed, not heard about children but it might have happened. But once the decision is made to raid a compound in such a manner, everyone inside will die regardless of whether they attempt to surrender. Operationally, there is no other choice which would not leave the safety of the men or the operation itself in severe jeopardy. I heard this from the chap who was the assault commander on this raid.

    Incidentally, the same chap escaped a courts martial in Iraq when he was ordered over the radio to shoot somebody, and he refused on the grounds that he did not believe the man to be the right target and he was in a better position to determine that than the officer giving the order. His reasoning was deemed sound.

  7. @KM. I agree.
    International Law is the Western post-renaissance attempt to sort out disputes between countries just as domestic law sorts out local disputes. It is an attempt, however pathetic, to avoid war.
    The problem comes when trying to apply ‘Law’ to war.
    War is to kill people.
    Applying shades of grey to it is ridiculous, either it is right to kill or it is not. The way you kill people cannot be graded on a scale of 1 to 10. Human beings are nasty selfish apes and in times of high stress and fear retreat further and further from the civilized ideal. Hand to hand combat is the ultimate in stress, kill or be killed, situation. A bayonet charge at night, against an armed and dug in enemy may or may not have the words ‘no prisoners’ added. They are implicit in the ‘Fix Bayonets-CHARGE’ scenario.
    Torture or murder away from battlefield conditions should be treated as crimes, as they will be premeditated, as in rounding up civilians and executing them because you don’t like their beliefs.

  8. Well, the point of the Geneva Convention is mutual restraint. “We’ll treat yours decently if you treat ours decently”. So it’s practical. If there is the belief on both sides that the other side is following the Convention, both sides benefit.

    The other point regarding the comments above is that the point of war isn’t killing people. Killing people is part of the process of war, but the purpose is to achieve a particular goal; victory. You don’t kill any more than you need to achieve that. Throuhout history victors who have killed beyond that have been condemned or criticised on moral grounds.

  9. “Well, the point of the Geneva Convention is mutual restraint. “We’ll treat yours decently if you treat ours decently”. So it’s practical.”

    And when they don’t honour their side of the bargain? Should we still honour ours?

  10. The chap does have a book to sell, but I’m sure that has no bearing on this.

    Well, quite. If he’s lying that Brit soldiers committed war crimes to sell his book, then he’s the worst kind of scum you could imagine, and hence a trial that forces him to fall onto that weaselly defence would be precisely what the doctor ordered.

    It’ll be interesting to see if his other recollection, that of several British soldiers killed when they went forward to take a white flag surrender, inspires as much outrage.

    Vile military dictatorship is vile. We know this. Absolutely anyone sane, including 95%+ of left-wing commentators and the current government of Argentina (George Galloway is, obviously, not included in this bracket) accepts that Galtieri’s government was scummy. So the war crimes committed under it aren’t of interest, just like bears shitting in the woods.

    Re Tim N: all you say is true, but all of that reflects the fact that *you may well die if you do things otherwise*. There is no shooting of secured prisoners by British forces in anything you describe; indeed, everything you describe is well within the accepted parameters of war.

    What the dude in the Mail describe goes beyond that, from “securing a place where there might be innocent people” to “gunning down people because processing the forms to lock them up would be a pain in the hole”.

  11. As I commented at Heresy corner, if bayonets are drawn, then it’s unlikely that surrender or quarter is to be given, they are used to terrify the opposing side and make them run.
    The Laws of war allow for this, what needs to be ascertained is did an atrocity take place where surrendered (not attempting to surrender) soldiers were deliberately killed, that’s where the Geneva convention and the laws of war come in.

  12. I think there’s a general rule of thumb that if you’re in a situation where a uniformed unarmed enemy combatant, who is no threat to you, is on his knees begging for his life, the Geneva Convention doesn’t authorise killing.

  13. The law of war assumes that there is collective responsibility. We know this for two reasons. One is that, in order to be considered a legitimate combatant, and to be entitled to all the protections due a prisoner of war, one must meet four criteria: carrying arms openly, being identifiable as a combatant, being under a chain of command— and in an organization—responsible for your actions, and being in an organization that itself follows the law of war.”
    If the Argentines had killed men who had surrendered as the guy writing the book has maintained, then collectively they aren’t covered by the laws of war or the Geneva convention.
    Now we might see it as a crime as every reprisal is a crime. Yet, they become nonculpable, legal, when engaged in to enforce the laws of war. This is what the British Army did, nothing more. They did what was necessary to support the law of war. They are guiltless.”

  14. QM, I don’t think that is actually true, is it? The fact that some other Argentines may have broken the Geneva Convention doesn’t mean that the rest are no longer covered by it. We know that some Germans broke the Geneva Convention, but that didn’t mean it no longer applied to the rest of the Wehrmacht. The fact is, particular British troops in either conflict simply didn’t have the authority to relieve themselves of GC responsibilities based on what they may have heard some of the enemy may or may not have done.

    The reason for this is obvious; the GC would be useless if any army lost its protections just because Jimmy Mad Dog McNutter went barmy with a machine gun 100 miles down the front. Soldier A is not culpable for Soldier B’s transgressions.

  15. As with many threads, this enhances my wish to go to go for a beer with Ian B, and my general belief that actual right-libertarians, as opposed to conservatives who think it’s a nice label, are well worth knowing.

    On this particular question, QM is so wrong it’s barely even an answer. IB’s right. No more to say.

  16. I can’t help but feel the same policy would have spared us much angst and expense over Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, though…

    I think you’ve missed a step there. ‘We’ would have been spared expense and against if we hadn’t used Guantanamo or kidnappings extraordinary rendition or tried to circumvent the law (domestic and international).

  17. @John_b
    I didn’t write the laws of war, I’m just telling you how they are interpreted.
    There was no war crime other than the ones the Argentinians themselves committed, reprisals however are covered by the laws of war and the British were justified in applying them assuming they did, as herr cut has mentioned there were 1,000 surrendered Argentinians.
    Telling your troops in a bayonet charge that there are to be no prisoners is not an atrocity nor is it a war crime.
    The laws of war are there for a purpose in order to bring some sort of regulation to what is in essence a pretty uncivilized activity. They don’t follow normal civilized dictates but often prevent situations getting out of hand, they permit reprisals under certain circumstances including situations which justify no prisoners despite the Geneva convention. it’s not an area in which civilians often come into contact with though the laws of war do cover civilians and methods of siege warfare.
    You may well think I’m wrong, but I’m not the one who follows and applies the laws.

  18. I’ve just been reading a book about the Crimean war where it seems to have been the rule that British soldiers didn’t kill surrendering or wounded Russians and officers took active steps to prevent their men doing so, despite the ferocity of the fighting which makes the Falkands seem very tame. One of the chief complaints against the Russians was that they killed allied wounded. If this was the norm in 1854 before the GC then I don’t see any excuse for it not happening in 1982.

  19. Fake surrenders are not unknown.
    If you take prisoners what safegaurds do you have. There is a lot of them and one of you.
    And dont forget Agincourt – Shakespear wrote about that. Never too late to be righteous.

  20. Andy – “And I’m afraid the army has a history of not taking prisoners”

    Bollocks. Defend that claim. You mean ours or theirs?

    6 Tim Newman – “The second, used when fanatics are thought to be inside, is to throw a grenade into each room and kill anyone who is in there, no exceptions. …. But once the decision is made to raid a compound in such a manner, everyone inside will die regardless of whether they attempt to surrender.”

    Grenades don’t always kill everyone in such cases. I assume you are not claiming they go around bayonetting the wounded?

    “Operationally, there is no other choice which would not leave the safety of the men or the operation itself in severe jeopardy.”

    Nor are they obliged to do otherwise.

    7 Nick Luke – “It is an attempt, however pathetic, to avoid war.”

    I think the West has done an excellent job of reducing war. Why do you think otherwise?

    “War is to kill people. Applying shades of grey to it is ridiculous, either it is right to kill or it is not. The way you kill people cannot be graded on a scale of 1 to 10.”

    Yes you can. The Western tradition is to kill young men in uniform, face to face, with guns in their hands, which are restricted by custom and convention. We do not murder women and children if possible. We do not kill the sick or wounded. Or prisoners. We do not use car bombs.

    9 JuliaM – “And when they don’t honour their side of the bargain? Should we still honour ours?”

    No.

  21. ukliberty – “If people surrender you’re not allowed to kill them.”

    If you can take their surrender. What if you can’t? Suppose a group of soldiers surrender to an UAV – as happened in Iraq. Are the follow up forces to make sure that every single enemy soldier they meet was not one of that group?

  22. @QM

    One of the first things you learn when joining the Army is that UK is a signatory to the GC and that you are bound by it, even if your enemy isn’t. I can assure you that as one pf the embarked forces this was also made clear to us on the way down, in no uncertain terms.

    As to this claim, in the heat of the hand to hand combat that took place on Mt Kent and other places in the final battle there may well have been cases of Argentines trying to surrender, but that would be hard to prove. However, tying them up and shooting them sounds highly unlikely to me, but that doesn’t me to say that there shouldn’t be an investigation to see if there is a prima facie case.

  23. Much talk here of bayonet charges here, I see a long line of men scrambling “over the top” and rushing for the enemy ditches – do such any such thing still exist? I was never handed any bayonet doing my stint in the army, though enough weaponry to extinguish any life at, at least, 300 metres – so if you British are not taking any prisoners, a bayonet charge sounds very quaint indeed.

    Generally you are allowed to defend yourself with the necessary violence, but when your opponent has stopped being a threat, you are supposed to cease aggression. That is not at all a new idea, and definitely not something particular to the British.

  24. And the whole War Crime/Crimes against Humanity Panjandrum is necessary as a deterrent to stop genocide – never again! – and brutal regimes except in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kosovo, Iraq; like Pol Pot, Syria, Taliban, North Korea, etc, etc.

    We even gave that great murdering Humanist terrorist Yasser Arafat a Peace Prize.

    So let’s self-flagellate our British selves – the easy target – whilst leaving the difficult ones, really bad guys to their work uninterpreted or embarrassed.

    It’s all moral Onanism for the Chattering classes.

    All those who pick over the niceties of International conventions, should first fight in the front line before they open their mouths.

  25. John B. I suppose you must have been fighting on the front line then: did you personally kill any prisoners?

    Regarding your list of barbarians: yes they were barbaric, but personally I can live among barbarians without feeling compelled to act like one.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.” Much ridicule has been heaped on this, but I find it not unthinkable that it reduced hostility slightly for a slight while – which makes a bit of ridicule acceptable. And handing the prize to one side only would have been even more ridiculous.

  26. “Much talk here of bayonet charges here, I see a long line of men scrambling “over the top” and rushing for the enemy ditches – do such any such thing still exist? ”

    The attacks on Mts Kent and Longdon were exactly that over the top sort of fighting.

  27. SimonF. I checked that out, and found you were right: the British still have bayonets as standard equipment, and have performed bayonet charges both in the Falklands war and later. Other countries find it less useful, even the U.S. Army has eliminated bayonet drills from basic training.

  28. SMFS,

    If you can take their surrender. What if you can’t? Suppose a group of soldiers surrender to an UAV – as happened in Iraq.

    AIUI, you have to accept surrender or let them go; you’re not allowed to kill them just because surrender is inconvenient or unfeasible.

    (This doesn’t mean they are allowed to keep their weapons.)

    Are the follow up forces to make sure that every single enemy soldier they meet was not one of that group?

    Is the enemy hors de combat or not? If he isn’t hors de combat , then ‘we’ can kill him. If he is hors de combat – that is, he’s continuing to make it clear that he has surrendered, he has dropped his weapons and he’s walking under a white flag, say – then we aren’t allowed to kill him. There is no problem of identification.

    See for example Articles 40 and 41 of Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1)
    http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/protocol1.htm

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