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Outside View: International law treachery

By FRED GEDRICH, A UPI Outside View commentary

WASHINGTON, July 6 (UPI) -- An indisputable development emerging from the war on terror is the purposeful and successful use by terrorists of international law as a tactical weapon against their enemies. Sadly, their success is being enhanced by the support of witless enablers in the United States and elsewhere.

Terror groups like al-Qaida know their adversaries fight based on the idea that the rule of law is what separates the civilized world from the barbarians. They have shrewdly and callously exploited civilized rules of warfare to their advantage.

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The terrorists' weapons of choice are improvised explosive devices, suicide bombing attacks and videotaped beheadings. They seek to inflict as much mutilation, death, destruction and terror on civilian and military targets as possible. In the region of the world that bore them, they are treated as heroes and, shockingly, in many quarters of the civilized world, including the United Nations, they are considered freedom fighters or insurgents.

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On the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, it is far different. Hundreds of allied soldiers, fighting for the freedom of others rather than for purposes of conquest, have died as a result of their attacks while several thousand more have lost limbs or suffered other serious injuries.

The United Nations' Sergio de Mello lost his life in a suicide bombing attack in Baghdad. Al-Qaida thugs unmercifully beheaded U.S. civilians Nick Berg and Paul Johnson -- and shamefully waved their heads before a global audience.

When attacked, the terrorists respond by claiming the retaliatory violence is misdirected against civilian populations and religious, educational and humanitarian institutions.

If killed, terrorist comrades claim innocent civilians have been killed.

If captured, the terrorists claim they have been denied legal rights as prisoners of war under Geneva Conventions and Protocols.

If questioned by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, they claim they have been tortured and abused.

The flagrant barbarism of the region would, a reasonable person might think, lead to a quick and general consensus on the need for military action and swift and appropriate justice for the terrorists -- but they haven't.

The Geneva Conventions and Protocols of 1949 and 1977, behind which the terrorists which to hide, are the civilized world's most recent attempt to control wartime behavior. These rules established, among other things, laws governing the conduct of soldiers and the treatment of prisoners and civilians during conflict.

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At the heart of the conventions and protocols are clear distinctions between warring parties (combatants) and civilians (non-combatants). Their chief benefits are to make it easier for combatants to avoid targeting non-combatants and for lawful combatants (soldiers) from being prosecuted for acts of war.

To qualify as a lawful combatant under Article IV of the Geneva Convention a soldier must:

(1) be commanded for a person responsible for subordinates;

(2) have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (a uniform);

(3) carry arms openly; and,

(4) conduct operations in accordance with laws and customs of war.

Conversely, an unlawful combatant is a fighter who does not conduct operations according to these rules -- and therefore is not entitled to Geneva Convention protections.

This is the type of combatant the world faces in the global war on terror.

The misguided seemingly use international law to further selfish political agendas. Through the misdirection of the vast majority of their criticisms to the soldiers fighting terrorism, they actually help the terrorists at the expense of their victims and potential victims.

It is a shallow, dangerous and elitist worldview. It clouds the judgment and prevents a full recognition of the nature of the evil -- terrorism -- and the serious threat it poses.

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U.S. President George W. Bush is correct when he says this is a war unlike any the United States has waged before. It is a battle between the forces of good and evil - and a battle of nation states against stateless, lawless, and uncivilized enemies. And like Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at the onset of WWII, it must be fought until "absolute victory" is achieved.

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(Fred Gedrich is a senior policy analyst at Freedom Alliance and a former official at the U.S. Defense and State departments.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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