Geneva Convention : Code of Conduct POWs and ISIL
"If someone starts snipping off you or your mates' fingers, you will say anything to get them to stop."
"We are fighting people who don't care about the Geneva Conventions."
British military source
"The Korean war marked a real change in how prisoners had to deal with captivity."
"Your average soldier was not psychologically prepared for captivity of that sort to be used as a propaganda tool, [through coercion and torture]."
Jonathan Vance, historian, Western University, London, Ontario
"The Canadian Forces Conduct after Capture Training Centre continues to support Canadian Armed Forces members with the necessary and appropriate training for situations of possible detention and captivity."
Captain Rob Bungay, Canadian Military public affairs branch
"Conduct after capture is a very real issue and Canadians should be aware of the risks our forces face."
"Given the proximity of our forces to the front lines in northern Iraq, any hostiles they encounter are unlikely to adhere to standard norms when it comes to a captured Canadian soldier."
"The longer you can work with your captors [by appearing to accommodate oneself to their views temporarily], the greater the chance that your people will come for you, or can negotiate your release."
"It is nice to believe in the Geneva Convention and rules of gentlemanly conduct, but we now live in an era marked by asymmetric warfare and adversarial non-state actors. The security landscape has become much greyer."
Christian Leuprecht, political scientist, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario
Which is putting it rather mildly as a gross understatement. There was a time in the now-distant past when under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war taken by an opponent into custody were required to state name, rank and serial number, nothing more. The convention reflected Europe's civil order. Prisoner-of-war camps were designed to reflect military discipline and respect for combatants whose patriotic duty was to represent their nation's interests in war as in peace.
We live now in an era where the west is embroiled in a conflict far from its shores, in geographies that tribal, religious, political and social-ideological conflicts gave no quarter to the enemy. The niceties of western conduct even under dangerously strained and conflicted circumstances were peculiar to their backgrounds of civilized behaviour. Their soldiers now find themselves confronting and being engaged in conflict with a barbarian interpretation of warfare where nothing is sacred but the urge to kill, both as a primitive emotion and a religious conviction.
Soldiers deployed by their European nations and those from North America and wherever else the concept of honouring humanity irrespective of a conflict's divide now know they may be exposed, if captured, to horrendous experiences of torture and possibly a death of atrocious dimensions. The Islamist jihadists who battle raising the flag of Islam that propels and compels them have little use of western niceties in prisoner treatment. Thanks to the distribution on the Internet of videos meant to instill fear and loathing, the methods of meting out death have become notorious.
Islamic State jihadists feel no compunction, including those born and raised in western societies, about using the most horribly excruciating methods of delivering death, many of them making simple crucifixion appear humane by comparison. The burning alive of a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot installed in a cage after he fell into ISIL territory when he crash-landed his plane was only one of many atrocities favoured by Islamic State. These methods are well known across the globe and they serve a distinct purpose: terror.
Little wonder their fearsomely lethal reputation and the knowledge of what befalls anyone unfortunate enough to fall into their hands had such a sobering effect on the crew of the two American Navy riverine boats where ten sailors were dispatched on a trip from Kuwait to Bahrain. Naval command had decided it would be simple for the boats to sail toward their new base, rather than be transported overland. The inexperienced crew, thinking a shortcut might be in order, blundered into waters off an Iranian island where one boat broke down.
Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy patrol boats soon surrounded them. The American flag was lowered, the crew taken to the island blindfolded and bound. The American sailors had disclosed the passcodes to their cellphones, allowing themselves to be filmed, making caustic remarks about their superiors. "We thank you very much for your hospitality and your assistance", stated Patrol commander Lt. David Nartker, in a scripted propaganda video speech. The only female of the crew activated the distress beacon on the boat she was on, once the Iranians had boarded it at gunpoint.
The entire U.S. military found itself in a state of public shame. Demotions and various punishments were handed out to the crew in an incident that will follow them all the years of their lives. The American sailors were released the day following their ignominious capture and shaming. Given adequate thought of about fifteen seconds, it wasn't hard to understand why the crew acted as they did. Who wouldn't be terrified, falling into the hands of behaviorally unknown Islamist adversaries? The reputation of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps too, precedes them.
Lt. Nartker's career ended in a blaze of condemnation, that he had "failed to uphold Code of Conduct standards when he encouraged crew members to eat despite being aware of the video recording". A rather asinine under the circumstances reasoning in an effort to restore some semblance of pride to a military that had been insultingly slapped down by a hostile country's military representatives. As for the British military, it publicly denies it has issued any recommendations of the sort mentioned above for its members under the new realities.
The new reality is that there no longer exists anything approximating a unified code of conduct as a formulaic reaction to be used by captured members of the military to behave toward an enemy force. Traditionally the military ideal stressed expressed hostility toward those who had taken prisoners captive. Under current conditions facing off against men steeped in religious fervour and favouring the most bestial brutalities to be meted out to those they capture, convention has been stood on its head.