February 22, 2003

Define "Stupid" Samizdata's Dale Amon

Define "Stupid"

Samizdata's Dale Amon has sparked an interesting debate on the semantics and appropriateness of the term "voluntary human shields" in the comments to this post. He's right about the semantic point, of course: whatever these nitwits choose to call themselves, "human shields" and hostages, by definition, are involuntary.

But if they're not "human shields," what are they? (My wife, reading about them in the Times, once suggested the term "rather stupid people," which is inarguably accurate-- but I don't think RSPs are covered in the Geneva convention, either.) Amon says that a "volunteer hostage" should be regarded as a kind of unarmed enemy combatant, but that's oxymoronic as well. Is there such a thing, legally, as an "unarmed combatant"?

At any rate, many of these Rather Stupid People are there, with more on the way. They are going to be used, and, no doubt, most of them will end up dead. When they end up dead, it will be their own fault, to be sure. Nevertheless: when Saddam makes use of them as hostages (notwithstanding the fact that it makes a mockery of the concept) is it still a war crime? Is it still a violation of the fourth convention, as Rumsfeld avers?

Further questions: At this moment, the RSPs are engaged in not much more than a dangerous, foolish, and self-deluded publicity stunt. When the war begins, it will be a bit different. Once the RSPs are in the position of deliberately participating in the tactical and strategic operations of the enemy (e.g. aiding, however ineffectually, in the defense of key strategic locations, WMD sites, command and communications centers, etc.) will they then be properly termed traitors? What if they only intended to hold a fun, educational and spiritually uplifting sit-in at an orphanage or hospital, but were "re-assigned" by their commanders or controllers to deter an attack on a bioweapons site? Or what if they're not re-assigned? Treason? (It sounds mean to say of sweet little Geordie mums, but if treason has a meaning, sweetness is neither here nor there. A further further question: does treason, in fact, have any specific practical meaning anymore?) And what should be done with any who survive?

On that last question, Amon suggests a "catch and release" approach: give them a guided tour of the torture chambers, and send them off into the world to impart the tale to their fellow RSPs back home. I've heard worse ideas.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 22, 2003 10:58 AM | TrackBack