The Pentagon on Friday defended the use of some civilian clothes by U.S. special operations forces, a tactic used to help them blend in with the local population.
….Asked at a Pentagon press conference why it is OK for American commando troops to take off their uniforms, but a crime when the Iraqis did it, Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she thought American forces wear something that distinguishes them from civilians, but deferred the question for a later answer.
A week ago I suggested that Iraqi soldiers dressing as civilians was not really very surprising, and that we might even do the same in a similar situation. Mark Kleiman batted me down, and I immediately admitted I was wrong: if this rule isn’t followed then the result is (potentially) mass civilian slaughter.
But apparently I wasn’t wrong: not only are we perfectly willing to disguise soldiers as civilians, but we’re willing to do it in far less perilous circumstances than the Iraqis find themselves in. The outcome, of course, is to encourage the Iraqis to shoot at their own civilians since they can’t tell them apart from U.S. special forces, potentially resulting in ? you guessed it ? mass civilian slaughter.
So: can anybody on the pro-war side of the blogosphere explain to me why this is OK for us, but not for the Iraqis?
UPDATE: Chris Bertram points to this Al Jazeera report on the same subject. They make the distinction between “perfidy,” which is illegal, and “guerilla tactics,” which are allowed under the Geneva Convention. It’s an interesting non-U.S. perspective on the issue.
UPDATE 2: Mark Kleiman has more on the subject. I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be drawing the lines a little too fine in his post, but I can’t really say why. I’ll have to think about it some more. On the other hand, we both agree that if special forces dressed as civilians are killing Iraqi soldiers, this is pretty much the moral equivalent of what we’re accusing the Iraqis of doing.