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Barack Obama, War Criminal

OK, now that I've gotten your attention with the grabby title, let me assure you I was NOT happy to write that one. Because while I think he is committing a war crime, I don't blame him -- and don't want anything else beyond a cessation of the war crime as punishment. This isn't going to be a call for impeachment, folks, because I was completely blindsided by this development -- as, I suspect, were a lot of others who had no problems with his "crime" before now. Hell, I cheered him on on this one point.

There is one area where I found myself staunchly standing with the Bush administration and foursquare in opposition with the Obama administration, and that is the treatment of terrorists captured on the battlefield. I opposed then, and still oppose now, trying them in civilian court. I agree wholeheartedly that these men are not criminals, and as such have no business being treated as such; rather, they are -- according to the Geneva Conventions -- "illegal combatants" and therefore should be detained until the cessation of hostilities, or tried by military tribunals.

After all, these men are waging war while not members of a nation's military, do not wear the uniforms and markings of a nation's military, and are not bound to the same rules and regulations as a nation's military. In fact, we would be fully within our rights to execute them summarily -- especially if they violated other rules of warfare such as targeting civilians or using them as human shields.

Well, it turns out that we, the United States, have been doing precisely that under the Obama administration. And, I believe, so did the Bush administration.

One way the Obama administration has been fighting the War on Terror has been in the aggressive use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks on terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa. It's become rather tough for the terrorists to get together, never knowing if they're going to get sent to Allah by guided missiles from Predators. Predators being flown, many times, by pilots halfway around the world, back here in the USA.

I like this policy. I like it a lot. I am generally in favor of terrorists getting blown to hell, and when it means that Americans are never in any danger while blowing said terrorists to hell, I like it even more.

Which is why I never really looked too critically at the situation, and therefore never thought it all the way through -- and realized that it constituted a war crime.

You see, while the majority of these drones are flown by members of the Air Force, some are being flown by the CIA -- and some even by civilian contractors. So we have non-members of the Armed Forces, operating (most likely) out of military uniforms, not bearing the insignia of an armed force or our nation, committing acts of war on the behalf of the United States. And that is a major bozo nono.

Unlike the terrorists, this was not a deliberate strategy of ours. We did not set out to use civilians to wage war a part of a deliberate battlefield tactic; it just sort of evolved. Drones started out as unmanned surveillance platforms, and no one thought anything of them being operated by civilians (even technical ones like the CIA). Then somebody got the bright idea of hanging weapons on said drones, and then the CIA (so it's rumored) started using these armed drones to carry out highly-deniable strikes on very specific terrorist targets in very awkward places. And that was a good thing, too -- there just are some people in the world who need a good blowing up.

Then it went just one step too far, and we started doing it a little too openly. And without anyone apparently realizing it, we had civilians waging war on behalf of the United States as an official policy.

I don't want to see anyone put on trial for this, but it's gotta stop. Even though these men (and, possibly, women) are sitting at computers halfway around the world from the battlefield, they are waging war at the behest of the United States. We need to yank any and all civilians from these stations and put in their place members of the United States military, in full uniform. The law might not have kept up with the times, but it's clearly applicable here: we do NOT have civilians fighting our battles for us.

And as far as civilians being involved in collecting intelligence and targeting information for drones, that's a slightly grayer area, but I'm inclined to get them the hell out of the business of waging war and leave it strictly up to the professionals.

It's been said many times: the world has changed considerably since the days the Geneva Conventions were crafted, and they could definitely stand some revising and correcting and updating to reflect the new world in which we live. But until we do so (or repudiate them completely), we have to obey them. And in this case it's clear: civilians are NOT to be allowed to wage war.

Not even from a computer screen halfway around the world.


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Comments (26)

". So we have non-members o... (Below threshold)
jim m:

". So we have non-members of the Armed Forces, operating (most likely) out of military uniforms, not bearing the insignia of an armed force or our nation, committing acts of war on the behalf of the United States. "

These are called spies and in WWII they were summarily executed.

I wouldn't call these people war criminals, but it is clear that they do not receive the protections provided by the Geneva Convention. But, then again, since the US was the only nation to ever bother following the convention they wouldn't have received those protections anyway. (Oh alright, the Brits, Canadians and Aussies follow it too, but they are all on our side so it amounts to the same thing)

Actually, Jim, the Germans ... (Below threshold)

Actually, Jim, the Germans were halfway good about following the Geneva Conventions in regards to Allied prisoners. I realize it's almost blasphemy to imply that the Nazis weren't relentlessly evil in every aspect, but as long as you weren't Russian, if you were captured by the Germans you were treated relatively well.


Don't forget the folks gath... (Below threshold)
James H:

Don't forget the folks gathering targeting info and such, working at installations at or near the theater of war. Ideally, they should me military as well.

The other thing ... I hope ... (Below threshold)
James H:

The other thing ... I hope these drones aren't given brains of their own. Next thing you know, they'll start saying things like "by your command."

Actually, Jim, the Germa... (Below threshold)

Actually, Jim, the Germans were halfway good about following the Geneva Conventions in regards to Allied prisoners.

The regular German Armed Forces were, yes. The SS and Gestapo, not so much. As two examples, SS forces committed the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, while Gestapo thugs murdered fifty British and Canadian POWs after they attempted "the Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III prison camp in March 1944.

Actually I was thinking mor... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Actually I was thinking more of subsequent actions in the far east and middle east where our soldiers are routinely tortured and murdered.

And yes, the Nazi's weren't too bad to our troupes. Certainly so when compared to the Japanese.

While the CIA has its own t... (Below threshold)

While the CIA has its own trained operators, it might be possible that some of the Predator/Reaper AVO's and SO's are military members on TDY to a Top Secret assignment out of uniform.

That might makes things even more murky.

I don't see the problem. Th... (Below threshold)
Jeff Medcalf:

I don't see the problem. The point of the rule about bearing a distinctive sign is to prevent the targeting of civilians by distinguishing civilians from soldiers. Since the weapons bear military markings and the operators are not visible, no such confusion can occur.

Though I am not a Constitut... (Below threshold)

Though I am not a Constitutional expert, nor play one on TV, it seems that technically we are not at war without a Congressional Declaration of War. Our armed forces are operating under a Congressional Authorization of the Use of Armed Force. Or something.

Damnit J, I won the lotter... (Below threshold)

Damnit J, I won the lottery and bought the tickets. I have been waiting my turn to play with the drones for months. Don't go ending the game before my turn comes up to play bomb the terrorists.


technically we ... (Below threshold)
technically we are not at war without a Congressional Declaration of War. Our armed forces are operating under a Congressional Authorization of the Use of Armed Force.
I have yet to find anyone who insists there's a difference between these two things, that can explain exactly what it is, other than that an AUMF doesn't contain the words "declare war."

I don't want to insult you, davidt (any more than I do anybody else), but this is like insisting that a Certificate of Live Birth isn't a birth certificate.

Jeff, you're right about th... (Below threshold)

Jeff, you're right about the SPIRIT of the law -- the drone pilots are not likely to be confused with civilians by the enemy -- but the LETTER of the law is clear: they're waging war (albeit from halfway around the world, in some cases), and they're not in uniform and, quite likely in some cases, not even members of the military. That's a no-no, and we should be very, very careful about it.

I'm not saying we should never ever ever break it, but only do so deliberately and with great aforethought. Here, we've backed into a technical violation, and we ought to address it.


Of course, there is always ... (Below threshold)
Bill M:

Of course, there is always the possibility that this option has been delegated to CIA and such operatives as they may use by a Presidential Finding or some other directive. If so, it arguably could fall into the grey areas around the Geneva Conventions. We simply don't know and doubt that we'd be told. They tend to be a little secretive 'bout such things.

In any case, I wish them success in tracking and terminating as many of the bad guys as they can.

[email protected], I agree that in pra... (Below threshold)

[email protected], I agree that in practical terms it's a distinction without a difference, or something. But a Congressional Declaration of War carries powers and responsibilities that many politicians are reluctant to grant others or take on themselves, thus the political creation of the pseudo declaration of war, the Congressional Authorization to Use Military Force.

Since the end of WWII the US has been conducting war regularly without Congress officially declaring war so that, technically, politicians can escape responsibilities or prevent other politicians from gaining extra powers or for cosmetic political nuance.

In the case of 'War Crimes' I think the lack of an official declaration of war gives politicians the wiggle room they want to maintain to escape responsibility.

I think we've had civilian ... (Below threshold)

I think we've had civilian "contractors" in almost every 20th century war, and perhaps many of the 19th century wars also.

Example - Charles Lindbergh was an aircraft advisor for (?Grumman?) and actually flew several combat missions while helping airmen extract the most performance from the aircraft. I've seen this in several WWII biographies. He was NOT in the service at that time. And no one would have considered him a "spy" for not wearing a uniform.

The simplest response would be to deputize said drone operators. There's an expertise involved that we shouldn't just discard immediately.

Davidt, I think what you wa... (Below threshold)

Davidt, I think what you want to take issue with then is the War Powers Act, which was enacted for the express purpose of depriving the President of certain prerogatives without relieving him of the attendant responsibilities.

Congress passed War Powers because it didn't like the undeclared wars that had been prosecuted after WW2, but it contained perverse incentives that gave rise to AUMFs.

Arguably, an AUMF is the only viable version of a Declaration of War under War Powers.

I think I have to disagree ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I think I have to disagree with you on this one, Jay. That is, the contention that a war crime has been committed. We have to go back to definitions.

If I read your post correctly, your basis is essentially that if a civilian commits an act of war, it's a war crime. Trouble with that is definitions. The President of the United States, after all, is a civilian, but is also Commander-in-Chief, and therefore he wages war as much as anybody. SecDef is a civilian, and so is SecState. The National Security Advisor, who advises the President and often key members of the House and Senate on military matters, is also a civilian in that role. Their job definitions therefore constitute civilians conducting warfare. And ultimately, everything the CIA does falls under the authority of the Executive Branch, and therefore even CIA contractors have the same authority as the President, albeit to a different degree and capacity. It is therefore imperative to clarify the meaning of civilian warfare.

Further, I saw a reference to the Geneva Convention, but that fails on at least two points. First, as you know the United States Constituion makes clear that no foreign power has sovereignty here, and in the context of Geneva that means that unless a specific act has been clearly defined and prohibited in an American statute or the UCMJ, it is not illegal under U.S. law. The Geneva Convention is silent on most aspects of modern warfare, not least the responsibility for remote deadly force. Second, the Geneva Accords defined conduct by nation-states with regard to other nation-states; killing a terrorist is by definition impossible to run against the Geneva Convention, because the conduct and goals of terrorist organizations, which are NGOs by the way, are already banned by the Geneva Convention, as is protection of such organization by the Geneva Convention. Let's not forget that even Iran's bearded bastions of bestiality deny official sanction of terrorist activities. This removes any opportunity such nations have to decry the termination of such terrorists.

Blowing up terrorists with the use of remotely guided missiles is legal under United States law, if so ordered by National Command Authority.

Jim M had it right in his f... (Below threshold)

Jim M had it right in his first post. Spies and non military combatant is nothing new and is not forbidden by the Geneva conventions. Technically the worst case scenario is that someone captures one of these operators and don't afford him Geneva Conventions right. Reality is even our military personal that should be afforded these these rights do not receive them.

One more thing, I notice th... (Below threshold)

One more thing, I notice the lack of an outcry by the left about Obama being a war criminal. Why not? Hypocrites perhaps?

Jeff has it right. As long ... (Below threshold)

Jeff has it right. As long as the drones themselves have military markings then the requirement for identification is satisfied. Yes, this could be considered a violation under some reading of the letter of the Geneva Conventions. But you have to use the spirit here because said conventions don't (and couldn't) consider this kind of remote warfare.

It's a mark of our civility as a society that we even consider such questions though.

BTW, A Certificate of Live ... (Below threshold)

BTW, A Certificate of Live Birth is not a Birth Certificate.

lots of Geneva lawyers here... (Below threshold)

lots of Geneva lawyers here I see ...
field of battle ... that is the key point ... drones with markings are in the field ... not the operators ... and even so its is not a war crime ... it means you are not protected by the convention ...
support personel are not required to be in clearly marked uniforms if they are not in direct combat ... it is the shooters who have to be in uniform ...
The Geneva Convention says you can execute them AFTER you capture them. It clearly doesn't say anything about before you capture them.

Hmmm ... Would the Geneva C... (Below threshold)
Mike G in Corvallis:

Hmmm ... Would the Geneva Conventions affect letters of marque and reprisal? (I suspect not.)

From Wikipedia (links omitted):

Article 1 of the United States Constitution lists issuing letters of marque and reprisal in Section 8 as one of the enumerated powers of Congress, alongside the power to "declare War," and because the United States has not renounced privateering by treaty, in theory it could still issue Letters of Marque. However, the only vessel to operate under a letter of marque issued by the United States Congress since the War of 1812 was the airship Resolute, operated by civilians to patrol the seas for submarines during the Second World War (see Airship, § World_War_II).[18]

The issue of marque and reprisal was raised before Congress after the September 11, 2001 attacks[19] and again on July 21, 2007, by Congressman Ron Paul. The attacks were defined as acts of "air piracy", and the Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001 was introduced, which would have granted the president the authority to use letters of marque and reprisal against the specific terrorists, instead of warring against a foreign state. The terrorists were compared to pirates in that they are difficult to fight by traditional military means.[20] Congressman Paul also advocated the use of letters of marque to address the issue of Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden on April 15, 2009. However, the bills Congressman Paul introduced were not enacted into law.

Perhaps civilian contractors and members of nominally civilian agencies should be issued letters of marque and reprisal?

How about the 2nd Amendment... (Below threshold)

How about the 2nd Amendment? The right to keep and bear arms. I would consider them part of a national militia under military control, (POTUS IS CIC) exercising their 2nd Amendment rights, albeit using weapons our Founders never envisioned, as for uniforms, I think the Minutemen of old (and current) did/do not wear uniforms,

BTW, A Certific... (Below threshold)
BTW, A Certificate of Live Birth is not a Birth Certificate.
As long as their legality i... (Below threshold)

As long as their legality is identical to civilian contractors (paid mercenaries) on the battlefield itself, I have no objection. However, this is definitely something that needs to be verified ASAP.






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