The soldiers of the US 101st Airborne Division are accused of killing three Iraqis. Not women or civilians but known members of an al Qaeda training camp. What’s wrong with that? The enemies were handcuffed and should have been treated as POWs.

The concept of POWs stems from misunderstanding. For all of human history, armies have taken POWs not to intern them until the war is over but to profit from them: to sell them into slavery, put them to hard labor, or hold them for ransom. The modern meaning of POW is unsustainable. Russians, Americans, and Australians routinely killed German and Japanese POWs during WWII. There was no other choice: guarding, feeding, and transporting prisoners during military action was often impossible. More important, there was human vengeance: the enemies shot to kill and were killing just a few minutes ago.

Soldiers’ consciences are not as flexible as state policies or the minds of politicians. Soldiers are not automatons who can stop and change their feelings at whim. In order to kill, they must hate. States brainwash them and seed hatred. They cannot stop in a moment. A handcuffed enemy is still an enemy.

Israelis saw the problem with POWs during the 1973 war when the Egyptians surrendered en masse. In the final days of the war, Israelis often released Egyptian soldiers on spot and held only the officers. Guarding and provisioning the entire Egyptian army would have been impossible.

The concept of leniency to POWs encourages enemy conscripts to join the army. Faced with harsh punishment or death upon surrender, many oppose conscription. Nation-states have agreed to treat the POWs well to facilitate conscription for otherwise unpopular causes. The Soviet Union had no problem with conscription and did not subscribe to the Geneva Conventions

Humane treatment of POWs by Western armies is one-sided. Neither Israeli nor American soldiers expect decent treatment or even survival if Muslims capture them.

Soldiers are not policemen or judges. They cannot discriminate among enemies, especially during battle and for a while after it. Good soldiers kill well. The US demoralizes its army by such show trials. Once there is a line that soldiers ostensibly should not cross, it thickens and moves left. The prohibition of torturing civilians is common sense, but armchair military and human rights lawyers have equated POWs with civilians. Some years from now, shall we expect trials for wrongful deaths in battle. Why did you kill that tank driver? He had no trigger to shoot at you with. You should have stormed the tank and killed only the armed personnel. That would also save an expensive tank.

Show trials encourage the Muslim enemy. If you don’t consider him an enemy, stop occupying his country, withdraw. Muslims know that armies accept any damage to their enemies. If an army prosecutes a crime, the offense must be heinous and so common that even the Great Satan could not ignore and opted for exemplary punishment. Muslims take the trials as proof of US criminality, not goodwill. A bad reputation for the world’s democratizer.