June 03, 2005

Laws Of War* 

No, I don't have time to write at length of this important subject. Finally I have set up a reactor, reduced the catalyst and now the whole thing is taking CO2 and H2 at the inlet and churning out small amounts of CO and water at the outlet. Nothing really innovative, but I have to start assessing the situation before telling whether different conditions cause any interesting change. This also means, get ready for a few more chemical engineering posts to come.

So, regarding the Laws of War, I'll cite the words of Wretchard:
If the objective function is to minimize the suffering of noncombatants, the first step must surely be to discriminate between the "innocent" and the "guilty", for when distinctions are not made obvious by the wearing of uniforms other methods must be substituted. The main driver of battlefield
humanitarianism is good intelligence. A terrorist battlefield sees far less force than the First War -- none of the rolling barrages of the Somme -- but compensates in frightfulness by using civilians as sandbags, and only intelligence and highly accurate targeting systems can focus violence on the
combatants and not the civilians. Only through intelligence can there be any hope of achieving the substantive aim of humanitarian war, which is the exclusion of the noncombatant from the violence of battle. Humanitarian law
then, should theoretically do everything in its power to enhance this process, just as in the past century, it highlighted the practices most likely to assist civilians given the battlefield modalities of the day. However, humanitarian law in its current form sometimes does the very opposite and hinders this process. A captured terrorist is only obliged to state his name, rank and serial number. Tom Friedman of the New York Times argues that Guantanamo Bay should simply be shut down because it is so contrary to humanitarianism.


What Mr. Friedman does not quantify is how many innocent civilians might
die from mistaken engagement, friendly fire, bad targeting and what have you, if an alternative means of obtaining intelligence is not found. Would it be greater or less than the hundred or so Jihadis said to have died in US custody? Would it matter to those who regard Gitmo as the anti-Statue of Liberty? This is not an argument for torture: there are more effective ways than hostile interrogation to obtain intelligence including spying, wiretapping, surveillance and tracing through bank accounts. But it is an argument to recast humanitarian law to allow the gathering and application of that intelligence. Much of the historical impact of humanitarian law stemmed directly from the ability to gather and apply intelligence to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. The devices of open cities, clearly marked ambulances, zones of safe passage, armbands for humanitarian personnel, etc are usages whose practical utility has expired under the deceptions of terrorist warfare (bold mine), but their intent -- that of marking the limits of licit violence -- is sound. It is a distinction which can be based only on intellgence. Without that, humanitarian law is form without function on the modern terrorist battlefield, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
Read and consider, before casting accusations here and there and weeping for infringed human rights.

* Yes, even the title is taken almost straight from Belmont Club... ain't very creative today.


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