Saturday, July 22, 2006

Herbie Goes Bananas. And by Herbie I mean Alan Dershowitz

I know a lot of people, notably Le Professeur, who think that Alan Dershowitz's never ending one man argument about torture is pretty appalling and should not be given house space. I'm not one of them. Not that I agree with him - I don't. However, I think he makes a provocative and not entirely bonkers argument and that it deserves to be taken seriously.

This article, however, not only demonstrates a woeful lack of understanding of how things like counterinsurgency, how can I put this, work, but is also wrong, bonkers and just plain nasty. In fairness, there is the germ of a decent argument in it somewhere, albeit to a lesser degree than with the torture issue. Once he gets to the specifics though, he's all over the place:

Turning specifically to the current fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas, the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively clear. Hezbollah missiles and Hamas rockets target and hit Israeli restaurants, apartment buildings and schools. They are loaded with anti-personnel ball-bearings designed specifically to maximize civilian casualties.

Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those "civilians" who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

Define "cannot". Cos there's like a, y'know, a continuum. There's the lame and the halt. There's babes in arms. There's the chap off Jerry Springer where they have to cut the roof off his house in order for an industrial crane to airlift him to the cardiac unit.

Then there are a lot of people who will take the devil they know over the devil they don't. Especially when a) all their worldly posessions, their family and in many cases their only means of financial upkeep are contained within the four walls of their house, b) they have nowhere else to go and c) the pamphlets they get telling them to leave also say something along the lines of "By the way, you might not want to use the transport netowrk either because we reserve the right to blow seven shades of crap out of it". In this situation, the instinct of a lot of people is to sit tight, keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Call it human nature at work. Call it thick as pigshit. But what it isn't is complicity in terrorism. Of any kind.

We saw it in Fallujah, where gormless coalition public affairs officials stood around and responded to complaints of civilian casualties and bits of the city being flattened by air power and gunnery by going "But we sent out leaflets telling the locals that they had 24 hours to leave the city".

We saw the same thing in New Orleans, where there was less danger in leaving, more likelihood that the infrastructure would exist to support you once you'd left and substantially less likelihood that, once you'd shoehorned the kids, granny and a biscuit tin full of cash into the station wagon, you'd take a Hellfire missile up the exhaust pipe while pulling out of the cul-de-sac.

It seems to me that it should not take a rocket scientist to see that this doesn't work. Now, does this make the Israelis as bad as the Hizb, who are deliberately out to kill women and kids? No, it doesn't. Have the Israelis sacrificed a degree of operational effectiveness in dropping the leaflets in the first place, thereby giving the bad guys advanced warning of what's likely to be happening when and where? Yes, they have. Does (non-voluntary) population relocation, carefully managed have a role in counterinsurgency? Historically it certainly has and, depending on context, it may well do again. But among sections of both Israeli and US opinion, dropping a few leaflets going "We suggest you leave because it's all going to kick off" seems to be seen as some sort of magic talisman that removes responsibility for any carnage that might ensue and furthermore provides moral sanction for deploying whatever intensity of firepower happens to be operationally and tactically expedient.

Which is dubious and worrying. Suggesting that those who don't heed the warnings somehow sacrifice a chunk of their civilian status is beyond worrying, it's appalling.

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