Thursday, November 05, 2015

Geneva Conventions, Shmeneva Conventions

As an American citizen born-n-bred, I do have the occasional tendency to view history through a rather narrow, America-specific window. Here's what the historic timeline of the so-called “Geneva Conventions” regarding civilized wartime behavior looks like, when viewed through that window:

1864: The Geneva Convention's “Rule 25” regarding doctors and hospital workers states: “Rule 25. Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances. They lose their protection if they commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy.”

Source: The International Committee of the Red Cross, which says that this rule
was repeated in the subsequent Geneva Conventions of 1906 and 1929.[1]  It is now set forth in the First, Second and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949. Its scope was expanded in Article 15 of Additional Protocol I to cover civilian medical personnel in addition to military medical personnel in all circumstances …. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally directing attacks against … personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts.
Korean War: American army doctors perform surgery in mobile hospital units, usually in tents decorated with giant red cross logos visible from the air, thus letting enemy forces know not to deliberately target those facilities. Apparently, even the evil North Koreans respected the symbol enough to generally leave the mobile army surgical hospitals alone.

Source: the opening credits of the M*A*S*H sitcom reruns I watched as a kid.

2015: The United States knowingly bombs a Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in Afghanistan.

Source: MSF plus pretty much every reputable media outlet on the planet.

The MSF also reports that a U.S. warplane shot at people running away from the burning facility. MSF director Christopher Stokes said that “Thirty of our patients and medical staff died. Some of them lost their limbs and were decapitated in the explosions. Others were shot by the circling gunship while fleeing the burning building.”

Why would our forces knowingly bomb a hospital? “The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” Stokes said. “But we don’t know why. We neither have the view from the cockpit, nor the knowledge of what happened within the U.S. and Afghan military chains of command. Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban.” 

So: does the US and whatever noble allies we have no longer subscribe to old-school rules of war deeming clearly labeled medical facilities and personnel, even those of the enemy, off-limits? Or do we still pay lip service to that rule, but invoke the post-Nynaleaven  “It's not a war crime when we do it” exemption?


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