Friday, February 21, 2003

Wait a second. Wait just a second. Are there seriously going to be thousands of western peace activists acting as human shields in Iraq?

The number of human shields remains fluid. The count listed on the group's bulletin board today jumped from about 97 to 132 with new arrivals, but about 60 showed up at a group meeting. Eighteen are believed to be Americans. Organizers brashly predict that the numbers will catapult to the thousands.
A few dozen I could understand, but the prospect of thousands of westerners scattered around baghdad is going to be one hell of a hassle for all involved.

Then again, it would appear that they may not get their chance:

The United States has warned repeatedly that even though the shields this time are volunteers, their use would still be considered a war crime. "Deploying human shields is not a military strategy, it's murder, a violation of the laws of armed conflict and a crime against humanity, and it will be treated as such," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Wednesday.

The participants took exception. "That is ridiculous," said Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a 33-year-old gulf war Marine veteran who initiated the idea. "They are not using me. I am here voluntarily. What is Saddam Hussein supposed to say? `No, they can't do it'? "

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the foreign volunteers were welcome. "They should come and set themselves up around places that we need to survive, to aid civil defense," he said.

The Iraqi government is paying to house the volunteers in a smattering of small hotels around downtown Baghdad and setting up free international telephone lines and special Internet access so they can lobby the folks back home.

Western diplomats are unsure, though, that the Iraqi government, once besieged, will want the public relations headache the shields will undoubtedly carry, and some of the volunteers themselves have their doubts.

"We fear they will keep us together and then push us out at the last minute," Mr. Meynell said.
I'm not really sure if this would count as a war crime or not; they're there of their own free will, and I somehow doubt that this would be crucial in whether or not Saddam Hussein is prosecuted for war crimes. (If he even survives the attack, which is unlikely, as the prospect of Saddam at the ICC must keep Bush administration officials up at night.) Still, since the entire point of the thing is to be a PR headache for all involved, these sorts of questions are inevitable.

(Personally, were I inclined towards that sort of thing, I'd wait until the occupation afterward and be an independent "eye on the ground" to ensure that the U.S. wasn't either committing human rights abuses itself and was living up to its promises, but if the point is preventing a war in the first place, I can see why that position might not be popular.)

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