Prisoners in War

Prisoners in War

Prisoners in War

Prisoners in War

Synopsis

The issue of prisoners in war is a highly timely topic that has received much attention from both scholars and practitioners since the start of the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ensuing legal and political problems concerning detainees in those conflicts. This book analyses these contemporary problems and challenges against the background of their historical development. It provides a multidisciplinary yet highly coherent perspective on the historical trajectory of legal and ethical norms in this field by integrating the historical analysis of war with a study of the emergence of the modern legal regime of prisoners in war. In doing so, it provides the first comprehensive study of prisoners, detainees and internees in war, covering a broad range of both regular and irregular wars from the crusades to contemporary counterinsurgency campaigns. The book revolves around two major developments: First, there has been a continuous increase in the political relevance of prisoners in war, in particular since the emergence of POW camps in the nineteenth century. Secondly, and related, the growth in the legal regime pertaining to prisoners had contradictory consequences. Whilst it enhanced the protection of prisoners in regular conflicts, its state-centric bias tends to exclude combatants who do not fit the template of regular inter-state war. Detainees in the 'war on terror' embody both tendencies, the development of which, however, is by no means a novel phenomenon. This book is a project of the Oxford Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War.

Excerpt

Sibylle Scheipers

At first glance, prisoners and detainees may appear as a mere by-product of war. Arguably captivity was for a long time a state of transition for a surrendering soldier (or, for that matter, a civilian unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the battlefield or inside a besieged town), followed by execution, enslavement, or release for ransom, on parole, or in exchange for prisoners taken by the opponent. However, the number of prisoners taken on the battlefield and the length of captivity increased substantially with the emergence of mass armies and the nationalization of war following the French Revolution. This development culminated in the Second World War, in which the average soldier spent more time in captivity than on the battlefield. in addition to this quantitative increase, the twentieth century also witnessed a qualitative shift towards greater political relevance and even politicization of prisoners and detainees. According to Geoffrey Best, ‘POWs [prisoners of war] have been at the centre of a series of IHL [International Humanitarian Law] rows since 1950…. Parties to armed conflicts have repeatedly exploited the weaknesses of the pow regime and the vulnerability of its objects in order to serve their own political interests.’ the current debates surrounding the issue of detention in the so-called war on terror indicate that this trend will most likely continue into the twenty-first century.

Apart from its increased relevance in quantitative as well as qualitative terms, the issue of prisoners and detainees is in many ways a prism through which more general research problems related to war become visible. First, the treatment of prisoners and detainees seems to be a litmus test for compliance with cultural, legal, and moral norms aimed at mitigating the effects of war. According to a statistical survey on compliance with the law of armed conflict, the treatment of POWs has one of the lowest compliance rates compared to other issue areas. This is partly attributable to the large scope for individual non-compliance in the treatment of prisoners and detainees as opposed to issues such as the use of biological or chemical weapons, where the state or the military leadership has a greater degree of direct control. Individual non-compliance with legal rules pertaining to POWs and detainees can serve as an indicator for training, discipline, and the success of enforcement measures within the armed forces or armed groups more generally. Non-compliance emanating from the state or leadership level, in contrast, often reflects the specific characteristics of the military culture . . .

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