Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rules of Engagement

There is a point in Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor when he describes his team's initial encounter with the Afghan goatherds who ultimately got his teammates killed.

Luttrell, Matthew Axelson, Michael Patrick Murphy, and Danny Dietz were assigned a mission to kill or capture a high ranking Taliban official in what was called Operation Redwing. Luttrell was the only one of the four to survive the mission and Michael Murphy became a Medal of Honor recipient.

As they were on the side of that Afghan mountain, keeping watch, they encountered a group of goatherds and had to make a decision whether to let them go or kill them. Luttrell quotes Murphy as saying

"If we kill them, someone will find their bodies real quick. For a start, these fucking goats are just going to hang around. And when these guys don't get home for their dinner, their friends and relatives are going to head straight out to look for them, especially for this fourteen-year-old. The main problem is the goats. Because they can't be hidden, and that's where people will look. When the find the bodies, the Taliban leaders will sing to the Afghan media. The media in the U.S.A. will latch on to it and write stuff about the brutish U.S. Armed Forces. Very shortly after that, we'll be charged with murder. The murder of innocent, unarmed Afghan farmers."

So what did they do? They debated both options, they voted, then they let the goatherds go. And the goatherds ratted them out and they all, except Luttrell, were killed.

This story illustrated to me, even back when I read it in 2007, that the media has no business in American military decisions. The fact that these soldiers had to stop on the field of battle and make this particular life and death decision based on how they would be treated in the media is just crazy. Luttrell says they ALL knew that letting the goatherds go was a bad call. But they didn't want to be raked through the media and called murderers.

This is not something they should have had to be concerned about.

Which brings me to U.S. District Judge John Bates and his decision today that prisoners in the War on Terror can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention at Bagram Airfield.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air points out that "The Constitution gives the judiciary no role whatsoever in the prosecution of war or in handling the prisoners our military captures. War powers are explicitly split between the executive and legislative branches. The practical reading of this order is that the federal courts have some sort of jurisdiction over military activity in Afghanistan, which proceeds from the equally fallacious rulings about Gitmo."

In addition, Article 84 of the Geneva Convention clearly states that prisoners of any stripe shall not get tried in civil courts.

Ed goes on to say that this order "interferes with military operations by treating captured prisoners as having Constitutional guarantees intended for the maintenance of civil order. Prisoners now will get the right to habeas corpus, turning soldiers into police officers and key intelligence into discovery material. No one can fight a war with a Miranda warning in their back pocket, nor should they."

He's exactly right. There's a nasty wave of anti-American, anti-military sentiment blowing through the courts from the dropped charges on USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, to the Urbina decision and the Boumediene decision, to the upcoming Uighur release, and now Ayman Saeed Batarfi's upcoming release, not to mention Binyam Mohamed who has already been released to Britain.

So what would Marcus Luttrell and his team have had to do? Clinging to the side of the mountain with very little room to maneuver, they'd have had to pull out a Miranda card and read these guys their rights? Transported them to a holding facility? Allowed them one phone call and a lawyer? Secure the crime scene?

These nitwits in the judiciary need to realize that the battlefield is not an urban crime scene and can not be treated in the same way. If military prisoners are tried in civilian courts, under civilian rules, where will it lead? Some suspect it will lead to our guys just killing the prisoners rather than going through the headache of the alternative.

We need to trust our men and women in uniform to do what they were trained to do. They don't need us second guessing them.


G.R. said...

I read the book and recommend it as well. When I read it I too was angered by the fact that fear of the media was greater than armed enemy combatants. War is dirty business, and there are no do-overs.

I'm not a combat veteran, but I help train troops for combat. And for those who think members of the military are big,brutish, blood thirsty, killers, think again. We taught them things like Law of Landware (U.S. Army's Field Manual 27-10). Because of the U.S. Military policy (which some people do disregard), many soldiers have died, because they obeyed and followed the prescribed orders in FM 27-10.

But is the media going to mention that? Hell, no, they go full bore on the ones who didn't follow standing orders and make the who lot look like Barbarians.

While in the mean time not saying a damned thing about the TERRORIST ENEMY COMBATANTS who do things to their prisoners like: shoot in the head, cut throats, cut off heads, pull people apart by tying them between horses of vehicles, and the list goes on.....)

But what the hell, we have little gods who went to journalism school and probably had nothing more serious than a papercut on their candied asses from toilet paper telling the military what they should or shouldn't do. Bastards make me puke.

CHA said...

I am closely associated with Matt Axelson, “Axe” in Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor, and everything relating to the developing changes on how we deal with our prisoners of war gives me great concern.

Since when does a POW have any civilian rights at all? Their only rights, if given any, should be ones derived directly from the Geneva Convention.

I would agree with your observation, thinking about how to deal in the future with POWs on the battlefield, just make sure there are no POWs.

Pat said...

@ CHA:

Thanks for the comment.

I continue to be just dumbfounded at these rulings regarding Gitmo detainees and now the Afghanistan business.

I will never understand those that sympathize with the terrorists who want to kill Americans. The "they are people too" argument does not stand with me.

Even if you put that aside, as the Geneva Convention is written, they have no rights, as you point out.

I'll never understand it.

And the fact that Axelson, Luttrell, Murphy and Dietz ever had to even pause one second to consider whether they would be called murderers is unconscionable.