March 09, 2003
Prisoners Dilemma

Eugene Volokh asks (a) whether British paratroopers in Kuwait were right to send back the dozen Iraqi soldiers who crossed the border to surrender, thinking the war had already started, and (b) what happened to the Iraqis when they got back to their unit. His tentative answers are (a) no, and (b) horrible things.

He's probably right, but the situation seems a bit more complicated. Given the reported low morale of Iraqi troops, it's quite possible that they were able to slip back as easily as they slipped out, or that others who knew where they had gone were willing to cover for them, since they planned (and still plan) to follow them as soon as possible.

If they had been allowed to stay in British custody in Kuwait, that would certainly have saved their lives, but quite possibly put their families in greater danger. In more built-up areas, I imagine deserters are quite common, but that close to the border their officers would surely have been able to figure out in a day or two exactly which soldiers had surrendered. At that point their relatives back home would presumably be doomed. Of course, it's impossible to tell: if they were all executed as soon as they got back to base, their families might well be treated just as brutally.

There is also a problem with the Geneva Convention. Given that there is (as I understand it) already a state of war between Iraq and Britain, continuing from Gulf War I, wouldn't the captors be obligated to give the captives' names to the Iraqi government, perhaps via the Red Cross/Red Crescent? If so, they would be forced to do part of Saddam's dirty work (the identification part) for him.

All in all, the dozen Iraqis and their families are quite likely to be screwed either way. One more reason (or twelve more reasons) to get the war over with as soon as possible.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 09, 2003 10:01 PM

I think we've already worked out a pre-arranged surrender schedule with those folks. They just jumped the gun.

Posted by: Anna on March 10, 2003 09:02 PM

I believe that the various Geneva Conventions only apply between signatories that are mutually obeying the Conventions.

I am fairly certain Iraq is not a signatory, and even more certain that it's never actually obeyed the Conventions, so they would seem to not apply in this case.

Posted by: Sigivald on March 11, 2003 07:31 PM