Monday, July 28, 2003

Mark Kleiman and Eric Rescorla are furious about a report that American forces in Iraq captured a fugitive Iraqi general by detaining his wife and daughter, and leaving a note demanding his surrender in return for their release. Kleiman calls it a "crime"; Rescorla calls it "terrorism". Matthew Yglesias agrees, and in addition thinks it terribly unwise, because of the hostility it will engender.

They all seem to be missing a key element of the report, though. In fact, the colonel in command justified the action as "an intelligence operation with detainees," and explained that the fugitive's family "would have been released in due course," regardless. In other words, he asserts that the threatening note was nothing but a bluff, to get the Iraqi general's imagination working overtime.

It's possible, of course, that the colonel was just covering his posterior, and really had, in effect, taken the Iraqi family hostage--or has at least ventured out on a slippery slope that will inevitably end in his (or another commander's) doing so. (After all, such bluffs are only effective until the first time one of them is called, and there will be an inevitable temptation at that point to "up the ante".) But while I understand the concerns of Kleiman et al., I'd personally be much more careful about jumping to conclusions before blithely asserting that a war crime had just taken place.

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