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PoWs or Illegal Combatants?
Publication date: 2003-03-25

The Issue of Prisoners of War, Illegal Combatants and the Geneva Convention

The capture of American soldiers by the Iraqi troops and their display on TV has been condemned by George Bush as violation of the Geneva Convention. But when the Americans were committing their crimes against humanity in Afghanistan they were saying that the Geneva Convention is obsolete and should not be applicable to their treatment of the Afghan prisoners. They declared the Afghan prisoners as illegal combatants and claimed that they can do with them whatever is convenient to themselves.

Some of the prisoners captured by the Americans were killed, others were tortured to death, others are still kept without any rights at Guantanamo Bay. And they were displayed by the Americans on TV when they were captured. But, according to the US administration they were not prisoners of war but “illegal combatants”, and for that reason such actions by the Americans were justified.

Before we proceed to consider the difference between Prisoners of War and Illegal Combatants we have to agree with the American administration that the Geneva Convention is obsolete. It is obsolete because it is based on the assumption that wars are “legal”. This is because at the time the Geneva Convention was introduced, wars were seen as normal and main activity of governments. From time to time the government of a country would decide to declare a war against any country, and then there would be war. Wars between European nations used to be as common as they are today in some parts of Africa. But can we still see wars as legal today?

As any form of violence, wars can be justified only to prevent violence, and only if there are no other means of doing so. A war for any other purpose is illegal.

But since, as we can see from the American war against Iraq, there are no adequate legal means of preventing illegal wars by super‐powers, and the law of the jungle still rules at the international level, the Geneva Convention at least seeks to limit brutalities associated with wars. So while obsolete in principle, it still could play some positive restraining role in practice — if it were observed by all and at all times.

So, what is the difference between PoWs and Illegal Combatants?

In the Afghan war, Afghanistan did not attack the US, it was the US that attacked Afghanistan. They attacked Afghanistan because the Afghan government told the US administration that they would hand over Osama bin Laden, if a proof of his complicity in the events of the 9/11 were presented to them. The Americans saw such condition as an insult to their self‐righteousness, and attacked Afghanistan. The Afghan war was not justified on any grounds, although Tony Blair tried to justify it by false arguments. But, as at that time “the world” was in a state of shock and lost its ability to make honest impartial judgments, the Afghan war had “broad international support”.

As the Afghan war began, some Afghans began to resist the American invasion. They were captured and became prisoners. But, because at that time the US found that the status of PoWs would restrict their troops in their treatment of the Afghan prisoners, they proclaimed them “illegal combatants”. But it was the American invasion of Afghanistan that was illegal, not the resistance to it by the Afghans. The Afghans had right to defend themselves.

So there is nothing legal about the term “illegal combatants”, it was invented by the Americans to justify their own brutalities against the prisoners of the illegal American war against Afghanistan.

Encouraged by the “broad public support” for their Afghan war, the Americans attacked Iraq. Again this attack was not justified, and, this time, it was even condemned by “the world”. And this time some Americans soldiers became prisoners. As the American war against Iraq is just as illegal as their war against Afghanistan, the American soldiers are illegal combatants in the true sense of these words. But now the Americans want to seek the protection of the Geneva Convention which they denied to the prisoners of the Afghan war.

The only result of this is that once again the Americans have shown themselves to the world as hypocrites and still further undermined their credibility and trust.

People with evil intentions are their own worst enemies and always end up by deceiving themselves.

But the American hypocrisy, just as the hypocrisy of Tony Blair, plays a positive role in Human History. It teaches the world the values of honesty and objectivity.

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