September 13, 2006

You Can't Spell War Crime Without War

by PG

For those, particularly on the right, who like to complain that human rights groups never go after the worst offenders (the country reports by said organizations to the contrary), the latest news from Amnesty International may be welcome. After a report accusing Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon, Amnesty has issued one that declares, "Hezbollah's rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law."

What confuses me is terming either side to have committed a war crime. Amnesty International's Secretary General earnestly says, "Justice is urgently needed if respect for the rules of war is ever to be taken seriously." But the rules of war never were taken seriously in this conflict. It began with kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldiers by people who were not Lebanese soldiers, then escalated with the acts Amnesty now criticizes. The Lebanese government failed in its responsibility to arrest and try the kidnappers and murderers for their crimes -- not war crimes, just plain ol' regular crimes. To call an act a war crime immediately politicizes it; Israel's partisans insist that it hit only infrastructure to hurt Hezbollah, while Hezbollah's fans claim that its rocket attacks were a necessary response to the Israeli strikes.

Traditional crimes are so much simpler and almost comforting after that tangle. Kidnapping and murdering one's opponents can be motivated by politics, but they are not the actions common to modern warfare and thus easier to keep in the realm of crime. When committed by state actors -- one could construe capture and indefinite detainment without trial as kidnapping, and assassination of terrorists as murder -- they might be violations of international law, but they are not crimes as they would be when committed by non-governmental agents. Governments' monopoly on the use of force is complicated when exercised outside their own borders, and can result in a war crime, yet remains distinct from felony and misdemeanor.

September 13, 2006 11:39 PM | TrackBack

War crimes may be difficult defining, but like obscenity and porn, do we know it (should we know it) when we hear/see it? Is actual intent required for a war crime? Or does it depend upon who enforces (or can enforce) such laws?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at September 14, 2006 07:31 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Sitting in Review
Armen (e-mail) #
PG (e-mail) #
Dave (e-mail) #
Craig (e-mail) #
About Us
Senior Status
Chris Geidner #
Jeremy Blachman #
Nick Morgan #
Wings & Vodka #
Recent Opinions
Persuasive Authority
De Novo Reporter

Powered by
Movable Type 3.21