11/17/2004

Aljazeera.Net - Just what constitutes a legitimate target?

Aljazeera.Net - Just what constitutes a legitimate target?: "If, as the saying goes, truth is the first casualty of war, the second victim - in modern warfare at least - must be the distinction between combatants and civilians.

More than 50 years after the Geneva Conventions were drawn up to delimit the boundaries of warfare the arguments are still raging as to what constitutes a legitimate target.

And nowhere have the divisions been more acutely exposed than in the continuing 'war on terror' where near daily atrocities have injected fresh urgency into the search for a consensus.

'There is agreement that the person who puts the bomb cartridge in the launcher is a combatant,' said Professor Louise Doswald-Beck, an authority on the law of armed conflicts who is participating in ongoing consultations on the subject headed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

'But there is a division of views on the status of the person who delivers the cartridge to the military. And there is a general feeling that a person who manufactures the cartridge is not taking direct part in hostilities.'

With no agreement, the middle ground has proved ripe for exploitation.

In 2003, Pakistan arrested Taliban press spokesman Mulla Abd al-Salam Zaeef and handed him over to US custody. He is now in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility as an 'enemy combatant' even though it was never suggested he performed a combat role.

Mulla Zaeef is just one example. Increasingly many jobs that were once performed by soldiers are being farmed out to the private sector with the result that more civilians are now supporting armed forces in roles such as drivers, engineers and translators."

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