Friday, October 20, 2006

Cluster bombs and the Geneva Convention

Human Rights Watch recently disclosed that Hezbollah used cluster bomb warheads as they launched rockets at noncombatants in Israel.

They have been yammering for quite a while about how awful it was that Israel had used cluster bombs against Hezbollah. They have it wrong. The evil thing is targeting non-combatants, not the use, or misuse of cluster bombs.

Here are the facts.
Cluster muntions are the right weapon to use against light mobile truck mounted enemy forces launching soft skinned rockets, in the close proximity to noncombatants.

If the non-combatants (many civilians are not "innocent") are in the area, they would hide in cellars and basements. There they would be safe from cluster bombs, but not safe from heavy iron bombs, which would smash through the buildings, and kill everyone in the building, as they did with Zarqawi in Iraq.

A key difference is when Israel sends cluster bombs, it is, I understand, because the Hezbollah rocket launchers, and rocket launcher teams are there. The Hezbollah clusterbombs are not launched at Israeli military forces, but rather, intended to do random murder of Israeli civilians. The same weapon can thus be used legally, or illegally, depending on who you aim it at. Like any other weapon. As I recall, some 12 Israeli reservists coming up from the south did not take cover in a civilian bomb shelter, and were killed by one rocket attack. Their unfortunate deaths were perhaps the only Israeli deaths IN ISRAEL that were not war crimes by Hezbollah.

Although it is true that clusterbombs have a high "dud" rate, it would be the choice of noncombatants to remain in the area after the bombing stopped. Unless, of course, the noncombatants were forced to remain in the area by the terrorists. In which case, the noncombatants casualties would be the fault of the terrorists.

Historical note: The cluster bombs were first used in Vietnam, to attack soft skinned anti-aircraft gun and missile sites in North Vietnam. These gun and missile sites were located on top of irrigation and flood prevention dikes. Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam in an attempt to give credance to the Communist assertion that bombing these "non-combatant" structures were war crimes on the part of the US. Of course when she had her picture taken while shooting at US aircraft, it showed that the North Vietnamese had placed military forces right on top of their so called "non-combatant" structures, thus removing them from any protected status.

Cluster bombs made little pops, and hence didn't do much damage to the dikes. Napalm was also used there for the same reason. By contrast, 500 pound bombs would tear up the dikes, and permit flooding.

It may seem that the rules are stacked against Hezbollah. They have no aircraft, and hence can not fight Israel legally on anything like even terms. That is a feature of the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention sets rules for combat that disadvantage legal combatants, compared to civilians. To protect non-combatants, legal combatants wear uniforms, which mark them as targets. Hezbollah does not. Part of the point of the Geneva Convention is that war should be eventually stopped. People who continue a fight long after they have lost, by disregarding the rules, hiding among noncombatants, hiding inside religious facilities, or in civilian hospitals, are not intended to have their likelihood of victory increased by such actions, but rather, inflict suffering upon "their" non-combatants. Legal combatants are protected if they are defeated and if they surrender. Illegal combatants forfeit those protections.

It would be better for Hezbollah to accept a loss, than to fight on as illegal combatants. Israel has only once used the death penalty, for Adolf Eichmann. Rather than contribute to the murder of noncombatants by illegal acts, the moral thing for Hezbollah, or any fighter would be to surrender to a foe which follows the Geneva Conventions. Since Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Queda do not follow the Geneva Convention, do not provide prisoners with protection, and in fact murder their prisoners, seeking to humiliate them (again contrary to the Geneva Convention) there is nothing that ANY NATION can do except fight to the last breath against such a heinous foe.


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