Tuesday, April 6, 2004

TSA to start a preferred traveler program
: Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that the Transportation Security Administration will soon have a program wherein you can go through a background check in order to be spared the hassle of a secondary screening the airport. The program will be launched first with a pilot program, and there are no details yet about how or where to apply for this program.

I'll be interested to see how this thing gets rolled out, and how the civil liberties and civil rights crowd criticizes this program. My guess is that their criticisms will fall into two categories: (1) the willingness of some Americans to play sheep to the Orwellian government shepherd, and (2) the inherent problems of giving preferential treatment to any class of persons. I predict there will be some practical problems with this too. But in the future, I also think that we all may be subject to these kinds of background checks if we want to fly, and this may be the first step down that slippery slope. More to follow...
Wars on drugs; wars on terrorism
: Mark Kleiman, who is one of the nation's experts on drug enforcement policy, completed a study of the connections between terrorism and illicit drug trafficking titled "RL 32334: Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat" which has just been released by the Congressional Research Service. I haven't had time to read the study yet, but if it's anything like his book Against Excess, it'll probably be quite good.
Army units hit reenlistment targets

Numbers may contradict dire predictions of personnel exodus

I missed this story last week because of my travel schedule, but the Washington Times reported on a pretty big development in the Army personnel world. The five Army divisions (3ID, 101ID, 82ID, 4ID and 1AD) that fought in Iraq or served in the post-war force have met (or nearly met) their retention goals for the period of their deployment, and/or the initial period since their redeployment. This is big news, because many people predicted an exodus of soldiers once their enlistment contract was up, due to family and personal pressures related to the high Iraq-related operational tempo.
The Pentagon has been closely monitoring the re-up rate for five Army divisions that fought in Iraq for about a year. Some officials feared the time away from home and the gritty duty would prompt a large soldier exodus. After all, the war on terrorism is unchartered territory. The 30-year-old volunteer Army has never been this busy in combat.

But numbers compiled this week for the first half of fiscal 2004 show that those five combat units met, or nearly met, all retention targets for enlisted soldiers ? the privates, corporals and sergeants who total 416,000 of the Army's 490,000 active force.

"This tends to rebut armchair critics who said the sky is falling and the vultures are circling and the Army is gong to lose all its troops," said Lt. Col. Franklin Childress, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "This is not true. The soldiers get it."

The Army also met its recruiting goal of 73,800 inductees last fiscal year, and 34,000 for the first six months of this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

"Soldiers are extremely resilient," said Col. Elton Manske, chief of the enlisted division at Army headquarters in the Pentagon. "There is absolutely no sign of a 'hollow Army.' Soldiers are continuing to re-enlist at least at historic rates."

* * *
Officials attribute the soldiers' recent votes of confidence to love of job, patriotism and cash. The Army in December created a new, $68 million pot that paid soldiers up to $10,000 to re-enlist and stay in their current unit for 12 months.
Analysis: I'm very glad to see that my predictions of a personnel crisis have not come true, or at least, that Army officials have mitigated that risk by throwing cash and other incentives at the problem. I also agree with the senior officers and NCOs who say that the force left behind by those who get out will be a solid, experienced force. The combat experience of today's Army is higher than anytime since Vietnam, and that greatly adds to the lethality and effectiveness of American combat units. Even if the force loses 30%-40% of its soldiers with combat patches, it will still retain a solid base of experience in the ranks. And those who stay do so knowing the risks of future deployment.

However, these numbers may be deceptive. While they were deployed to Iraq, the soldiers in these units were subject to stop-loss/move orders. Thus, they did not have the choice between reenlisting and coming home right away. Rather, their choice was between reenlisting and getting out immediately after their redeployment, without sufficient time to arrange a transition to the civilian world. From a rational actor's point of view, it makes sense that these soldiers would reenlist while deployed, especially if their reenlistment carried a sizable cash bonus that was tax-free while given in a combat zone. Second, the numbers for the reserve units deployed to Iraq may tell a different story, and I would like to see those numbers before forming a conclusion about this war's effect on the Army's soldiers. At least two surveys I've seen indicate that reservists have substantially (and statistically significantly) lower levels of morale than their active-duty counterparts, and that they indicate a broad desire to leave the service after this deployment. Even if the Army throws money and benefits at reservists, I'm not sure it can stop these people from getting out. We'll see.

More to follow...
Civilian contractors engage the enemy in Najaf

The Washington Post reports this morning that a team of ex-special ops guys from Blackwater Consulting came to the rescue of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Najaf Sunday, fighting off a determined Iraqi attack. A small contingent of U.S. soldiers and Marines were present too, but the Blackwater team was able to save the day by deploying a lethal combination of firepower -- and even its own helicopter.
Before U.S. reinforcements could arrive, the firm, Blackwater Security Consulting, sent in its own helicopters amid an intense firefight to resupply its commandos with ammunition and to ferry out a wounded Marine, the sources said.

The role of Blackwater's commandos in Sunday's fighting in Najaf illuminates the gray zone between their formal role as bodyguards and the realities of operating in an active war zone. Thousands of armed private security contractors are operating in Iraq in a wide variety of missions and exchanging fire with Iraqis every day, according to informal after-action reports from several companies.

In Sunday's fighting, Shiite militia forces barraged the Blackwater commandos, four MPs and a Marine gunner with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 fire for hours before U.S. Special Forces troops arrived. A sniper on a nearby roof apparently wounded three men. U.S. troops faced heavy fighting in several Iraqi cities that day.

The Blackwater commandos, most of whom are former Special Forces troops, are on contract to provide security for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Najaf.

* * *
A spokesman for Blackwater confirmed that the company has a contract to provide security to the CPA but would not describe the incident that unfolded Sunday.

A Defense Department spokesman said that there were no military reports about the opening hours of the siege on CPA headquarters in Najaf because there were no military personnel on the scene. The Defense Department often does not have a clear handle on the daily actions of security contractors because the contractors work directly for the coalition authority, which coordinates and communicates on a limited basis through the normal military chain of command.
Analysis: Whoa... so these guys work for the U.S. government, but not for the CPA and CJTF chain of command? That's not just odd, that's dangerous. Even if the Blackwater guys are the best in the world, I'm a little reticent to support the idea of armed contractors running around on their own without command, control and coordination with American and allied units on the ground. It worked this time, but it seems like a fratricide formula in the future.

Moreover, there is a certain "WTF" factor here, to quote a friend of mine. What are these contractors doing that they have this much firepower, and a friggin' helicopter of their own? And what kind of command system does CPA and CJTF have that they had zero visibility of this incident until presumably the Washington Post reported on it? Blackwater's employees exhibited a great degree of heroism on Sunday in Najaf, and they should be commended for their initiative and personal courage. However, it may be wise to reconsider the system of command and control that lets these guys run around Iraq with this much firepower and no accountability to U.S. government agencies.

Suffice to say, actions like this clearly support my argument that the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah were not entitled to protection as non-combatants under the 4th Geneva Convention. And unfortunately, because they fight outside the U.S. command structure, don't wear uniforms, and don't always carry their arms openly, they're likely not combatants under the 3rd Geneva Convention either. Thus, they fall in the gray area between the two categories. Ironically, the unlawful combatants we have detained at Gitmo fall into the same gray area. I don't think it's necessarily the best idea to contract out combat functions like these to private military contractors, and I think we're assuming a great deal of risk because of the legal issues in play.

Update: Mark Kleiman has some good thoughts on this too. I'm not ready to call these guys mercenaries, because I think there's a line between domestic PMCs and mercenaries or hired guns. Darren Kaplan agrees with me that these guys aren't mercenaries, and cites to Art. 47 of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (not adopted by the U.S.) to support his contention.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Leading Marines in the fog of war

Christopher Cooper has an exceptional article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the events surrounding the battlefield relief of USMC Col. Joe Dowdy, who commanded the First Marine Regiment during much of its march to Baghdad. The incident, in which Maj. Gen. James Mattis relieved Col. Dowdy of command, is surely to become a case study for officers and historians seeking insight into the art and science of battle command. Here's a short excerpt from the story:
Assuming a battlefield command is the pinnacle of a Marine's career. Being removed is near the nadir, exceeded only by a court martial. It's extremely rare for the modern U.S. military to relieve a top commander of duty, especially during combat. Col. Dowdy, 47 years old, was the only senior officer in any of the military services to be dismissed in Iraq. He says he would rather have taken an enemy bullet.

Col. Dowdy's firing was even more unusual because he didn't commit any of the acts that normally precipitate a dismissal: failing to complete a mission, disobeying a direct order, breaking the rules of war. "It was a decision based on operating tempo," says Lt. Eric Knapp, a spokesman for the First Marine Division. He wouldn't elaborate.

The colonel's removal sparked media coverage and intense speculation in the Marine Corps. The reasons for his firing weren't clear, mainly because the colonel and his superiors refused to talk about it. Now, interviews with Col. Dowdy and a score of officers and enlisted men show the colonel was doomed partly by an age-old wartime tension: Men versus mission -- in which he favored his men.

Gen. Mattis and Col. Dowdy personify all that is celebrated in Marine Corps culture. Gen. Mattis, 53, is a "warrior monk," as some of his men put it, a lifelong bachelor consumed with the study and practice of battle tactics. Col. Dowdy is beloved for the attention he pays to his men, from the grunts on up.

The qualities of these two Marines eventually tore them apart. Gen. Mattis, a Marine for 33 years, saw speed as paramount in the Iraq war plan. Col. Dowdy thought sacrificing everything for speed imperiled the welfare of his men.

The dispute was stoked by widespread but mistaken assumptions about how the Iraqis would fight. The desire for speed stemmed from the Pentagon's expectation of a fierce, protracted battle in Baghdad, with far less resistance in other areas. But it turned out that Baghdad fell easily, while the countryside continued to seethe with resistance.

Today, as U.S. forces tangle with an enemy they clearly underestimated, the military still is debating whether speeding to the Iraqi capital was the best way to proceed.
Analysis: The article does a great job of laying out the facts of the Marines' advance towards Baghdad, and describing the tension between the imperative to move quickly and the desire to conserve combat power and minimize U.S. casualties. In an industrial conscription-based force, the problem is easily solved -- simply throw men into the crucible without regard for numbers or losses. But with the advent of the professional force and America's all-volunteer military, this calculus has changed. Contemporary U.S. commanders are extraordinarily careful when it comes to spending the lives of their soldiers and Marines, and with good reason. Nonetheless, the mission must be accomplished, and it is a very difficult task to balance mission accomplishment against troop welfare. Part of it is art; part is science -- a lot is luck.

American military history is replete with examples of commanders who were relieved -- and commanders who were left in place too long before they were relieved. Last month, I finished reading Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning book An Army at Dawn, in which he describes the fitful way that the America's Army learned to fight in North Africa. Suffice to say, too many colonels and generals kept their jobs for too long in that conflict.

The jury's still out on Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the actions of the generals who fought the initial campaign from Kuwait to Baghdad. I don't feel remotely qualified to judge the relief of Col. Dowdy, or judge the decision of Maj. Gen. Mattis. Ultimately, the Marines accomplished their mission -- either because of or in spite of this command decision by Maj. Gen. Mattis. You'll have to judge that one for yourself.
The Los Angeles Times was recognized with five Pulitzer Prizes today for its journalism in 2003, including the national reporting prize a series on Wal-Mart's role and globalization and the local breaking news award for the paper's coverage of last fall's devastating wildfires. A full list of Pulitzer winners is available at the organization's website.
Mayhem in Fallujah
: I have an article today in Findlaw.Com's Writ analyzing some of the legal issues surrounding last week's ambush in Fallujah, including the legal status of the American contractors and the legal principles which will govern the U.S. response. The piece was also picked up by CNN.Com. I welcome your feedback and criticism.

Also (or instead of) my piece, check out this outstanding essay from Mark Bowden which appeared today on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. (It's also available on their free site, OpinionJournal.Com.) Mr. Bowden is uniquely qualified to comment on the anarchy in Fallujah, based on his reporting on the anarchy in Mogadishu that led to the book and movie Black Hawk Down. Among other things, Mr. Bowden argues that America cannot back down in the face of this savagery:
It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.

The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message -- which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu -- is back down. By most indications, Aidid's supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.

Many Americans despise the effort under way in Iraq. They opposed overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force, and disbelieved the rationale offered by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. There may well be a heavy political price to pay for the mistakes and exaggerations; President Bush faces a referendum in just seven months. But however that election turns out, and however imperfectly we have arrived at this point, the facts on the ground in Iraq remain. Saddam is gone and Iraq, thanks to U.S. intervention, is struggling toward a new kind of future. Its successful transformation into a peaceful, democratic state is in everyone's interest except Saddam's extended family and the Islamo-fascists. It's time for opponents of the war to get real. Pictures like those we saw from Fallujah last week should horrify us, but they should also anger us and strengthen our resolve. The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts.
Roger that.

Sunday, April 4, 2004

WP: Clarke's accounts bolstered by the evidence

Walter Pincus and Dana Milbanks, two of the Post's most experienced reporters, write that independent reviews of Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies have largely corroborated his accounts of events -- despite White House efforts to say otherwise. In general, the Post story says that Clarke's accounts are accurate, subject to minor variations and defects in memory that don't affect the truth of any of assertions -- only the exact details of events, conversations and other minutiae.
... the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.

In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.
My final report on Clarke's book: I just finished Dick Clarke's book Against All Enemies, and have only a couple of things to add to my earlier thoughts. In general, I was somewhat disappointed with the book after all the hype that has surrounded it. The most valuable part of the book, for me, was the look that it gave me into the inner workings of the National Security Council and the national security process generally. The extent to which personality affected policy and process really surprised me; so did the power of professional public servants in relation to their political masters.

But as for the final chapters, which supposedly damn the Bush Administration's for its terrorism policy and policy towards Iraq, I was unconvinced by Mr. Clarke's writing. I have immersed myself in the world of anti-terrorism and the law during the past two years, and I was not convinced by a lot of what he said with respect to the legal and financial strategies against terrorism. My experience and research has showed me that these fights have been quite aggressive indeed -- perhaps too aggressive in some quarters.

As for Mr. Clarke's argument regarding Iraq, I closed his book without having been persuaded by his argument. He did not marshal enough evidence to persuade me that the Bush Administration had deceived the American public to march towards war, or that it had considered (and disregarded) all of the strategic costs of the war. That's not to say that these things aren't true -- only that Mr. Clarke's book didn't do a good job of making these arguments. Similarly, I was unimpressed by Mr. Clarke's argument that the war in Iraq has been a distraction from the war on terrorism. With his knowledge of this issue, I expected a detailed breakdown of all the ways that the war in Iraq took away resources, political capital, and focus from the domestic and foreign war on terrorism. I found that argument to be lacking as well. He did not, for example, discuss how intelligence assets devoted to finding Iraqi WMD might have been devoted to finding Al Qaeda personnel and equipment. Nor did look at the resource-allocation problem with his NSC-trained eye, in order to make the argument the billions spent on Iraq might have been otherwise programmed for homeland security.

Ultimately, I recommend this book for anyone interested in terrorism and national security policy. It does contain a great deal of background information on the way things get done on the National Security Council, and those parts of the book are quite valuable. However, Mr. Clarke's larger point really comes back to himself. He makes a great effort to blame others for their failings in the war on terrorism -- the FBI for being too focused on law enforcement; the CIA for being too risk-averse, and too constrained by a lack of HUMINT capabilities; the military for also being risk-averse, and for jealously guarding its financial pot. If we take all of these criticisms as true, then the real blame belongs to the White House.

My understanding of the national security process is that that the NSC has the job of coordinating its separate agencies, to make sure everyone's playing off the same sheet of music, and everyone's working for the same boss. The failure to harmonize CIA and FBI and DoD performance with White House strategy seems to indicate a breakdown at the NSC and OMB level. If the FBI refuses to invest in information technology or commit agents to anti-terrorism work, then it's the White House's job (including NSC and OMB) to make them do their job. Similarly, if the CIA doesn't want to arm Predators to hunt for Al Qaeda's top leaders, but the White House does, who should win that fight? I'm unconvinced by any White House account that lays blame on subordinate agencies, at least where I don't also see concrete evidence (e.g. the firing of a cabinet secretary) to show that the White House really exercised some leadership. Maybe the White House needs to bring back President Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" sign and make it a permanent fixture in the Oval Office?

Bottom Line -- what Mr. Clarke describes in his book is a breakdown in leadership. And this breakdown is common to both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, because the faults that Mr. Clarke describes start in the 1990s and continue through the election of 2000, all the way to the present day. Mr. Clarke's book may be best known to the public as a criticism of the Bush Administration's war with Iraq. But to me, it was more about allocating blame to other people in Washington. Ironically, by pointing fingers at so many different agencies, Mr. Clarke is really pointing the finger back at himself, because it was his job to coordinate those agencies on the critical issue of terrorism. Ultimately, such blame belongs to the men who sit in the Oval Office, not to any political or professional public servant on the National Security Council. Nonetheless, I got the sense from Against All Enemies that the NSC deserved at least part of the blame here for not managing and coordinating U.S. policy on this issue during the ascendance of Al Qaeda.

Next book: In the Company of Soldiers by Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter who was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The book was slammed in the WP's book review as being a book about officers, not soldiers, but praised in the NYT book review. Regardless, I'm looking forward to it, because of the caliber of Mr. Atkinson's previous work.
Analysis of the response to the Fallujah incident
: Check out this analysis of the plan to pacify Fallujah and this analysis of some of the obstacles facing that plan over at Belmont Club. The writer hits a number of the key issues facing U.S. planners right now, including the terrain challenges of Fallujah and operational considerations relating to the proper calibration of force.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

A loss for the special operations community
: The Los Angeles Times reports on the passing of retired Col. Aaron Bank, an OSS officer during WWII who founded the Army's special forces and was known as the "father of the Green Berets." I have read about Col. Bank's exploits, and this guy was a legendary warrior and great American. It's hard to measure what he contributed to this country's national security, and yet, he was reportedly quite humble about his accomplishments -- a true "quiet professional." In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, P.O. Box 14385, Tampa, FL 33690.

Friday, April 2, 2004

First report
: I just finished reading the first 200 pages of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies on a cross-country plane flight. Either the book is well written, I'm just that much of a terrorism and policy junkie. Anyway, I'm just reaching the part of the book where President Bush comes into office in 2001, and I'm looking forward to reading the most controversial parts of the book. But a few things leap out at me from the first four fifths of the book:

- There's no love lost between Richard Clarke and the FBI. He singles out former FBI Director Louis Freeh for some particularly choice treatment, basically calling him a self-aggrandizing wimp when it comes to terrorism. He lambastes the FBI and Justice Department for its lethargic anti-terrorism work during the 1990s, and clearly lays a lot of the blame for 9/11 at this agency's feet.

- Similarly, Richard Clarke is very critical of the American military for its anti-terrorism performance during this period -- especially the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military planners who stood in the way of Clarke's plans to attack Al Qaeda. He doesn't go so far as to call the military cowardly, but he implies that they weren't organizationally or institutionally committed to anti- and counter-terrorism until the USS Cole and WTC/Pentagon attacks.

- The book lacks footnotes, or end notes, or any kind of annotations that would help me connect some of the events Clarke describes with events/laws/facts I know about outside of the book. This is probably my academic background and training talking; I just finished grading student papers where I was big on citation. But honestly, there were some parts of the book (especially where Clarke discusses anti-terrorism laws and enforcement strategies) where I wish I knew what he was referring to, because he was too general and conversational with his descriptions.

More to follow...
Travel break
: Intel Dump will slow down over the weekend while I travel and work on a couple of projects. Regular analysis and commentary will resume on Monday. Thanks.
Contractors on the battlefield

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN and the Washington Post all carry stories on their front pages today discussing the civilian contractors slain in Fallujah this week, and their status as something in between a civilian and a combatant. Some have even gone so far as to call these contractors "mercenaries", because of their work as private military operatives. In general, the media reports agree that there has been a trend towards privatization in the military sector over the past 10-20 years, and that many tasks once done by soldiers are now done by private contractors like Blackwater Security -- the employer of the four Americans slain on Wednesday. The NY Times reports:
The scene, captured in horrific detail by television and newspaper cameras, shocked the nation and outraged the tightly knit community of current and former Special Operations personnel. But it also shed new light on the rapidly growing and loosely regulated industry of private paramilitary companies like Blackwater that are replacing government troops in conflicts from South America to Africa to the Middle East.

"This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do," said Peter W. Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written a book on the industry, "Corporate Warriors" (Cornell University Press, 2003).

"And they're not out there screening passengers at the airports," Mr. Singer said. "They're taking mortar and sniper fire."

* * *
Though there have been private militaries since the dawn of war, the modern corporate version got its start in the 1990's after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At that time, many nations were sharply reducing their military forces, leaving millions of soldiers without employment. Many of them went into business doing what they knew best: providing security or training others to do the same.

The proliferation of ethnic conflicts and civil wars in places like the Balkans, Haiti and Liberia provided employment for the personnel of many new companies. Business grew rapidly after the Sept. 11 attacks prompted corporate executives and government officials to bolster their security overseas.

But it was the occupation of Iraq that brought explosive growth to the young industry, security experts said. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds of private military concerns around the world. As many as two dozen companies, employing as many as 15,000 people, are working in Iraq.

They are providing security details for diplomats, private contractors involved in reconstruction, nonprofit organizations and journalists, security experts said. The private guards also protect oil fields, banks, residential compounds and office buildings.

Though many of the companies are American, others from Britain, South Africa and elsewhere are providing security in Iraq. Among them is Global Risks Strategies, a British company that hired Fijian troops to help protect armored shipments of the new Iraqi currency around the country.

Blackwater is typical of the new breed. Founded in 1998 by former Navy Seals, the company says it has prepared tens of thousands of security personnel to work in hot spots around the world. At its complex in North Carolina, it has shooting ranges for high-powered weapons, buildings for simulating hostage rescue missions and a bunkhouse for trainees.
Analysis: I'm sitting in the airport right now waiting to board my flight, so I don't have time to do a full write-up on this. However, I will have a column on Monday discussing some of the legal issues surrounding these killings -- including the legal status of the Blackwater employees. In a nutshell, these employees are not quite civilians and not quite soldiers. They carry arms and act as the agents of the U.S. government, removing their protection under the 4th Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of civilians. However, they don't wear uniforms or belong to a properly constituted armed force or militia, so they don't really fall under the 3rd Geneva Convention's definition of a combatant either. The murkiness of their status means that it is really tough to define the a that actually occurred last week as a war crime, or anything else beyond what domestic Iraqi law says about it. More to follow...