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  When Human Shields Become Enemy Combatants
by Steven Zak
March 2003

A senior U.S. defense official said last month that foreigners who go to Baghdad to volunteer as human shields could be considered war combatants "since they're working in the service of the Iraqi government."

Don't mourn for Rachel Corrie.

The 23-year-old American "peace activist" was fatally injured when she purposefully obstructed an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer engaging in tunnel- and mine-clearing operations. What the Israelis graciously called a "regrettable accident" should never have occurred, because Corrie should have first been arrested, either by Israel or the United States.

The tunnels Corrie was protecting are underneath the Israel-Egypt border.

These elaborate structures, often wood paneled and with electricity, communications equipment and even elevators, are typically dug inside residential homes and concealed under bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms. They are used to smuggle weapons and explosives -- not to mention drugs and prostitutes -- from Egypt into Gaza.

Corrie, recently seen in a wire service photo angrily burning an American flag, was acting on behalf of the radical Arab-led International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an outfit dedicated to support the "right to resist" what it calls "the occupation of Palestine." The group's members once acted as "human shields" to protect Yasser Arafat from Israeli forces and last year, during the standoff at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, did the same for hostage-holding terrorists holed up inside.

Corrie's own sentiments were made clear in her writings.

In an email, she makes reference to Arab "homes in historic Palestine -- now Israel," thus reflecting the widely-held Arab view that "Palestine" means the entirety of Israel. In her diary, published on the web by the "nonviolent" ISM, Corrie writes sympathetically of the killing of Israelis by terrorists. "[T]ry to imagine, please, the courage it requires," she gushes. Yes, imagine.

Corrie and other "activists" are, of course, entitled to their violent views. But though Americans and Israelis put a premium on political "free expression," let's be clear: When those views are manifested as conduct, they are far outside the bounds of protected speech. As the United States Supreme Court once stated: "We cannot accept the view that an apparently limitless variety of conduct can be labeled 'speech' whenever the person engaging in the conduct intends thereby to express an idea."

Corrie brings to mind another politically motivated young American who acted to aid and comfort the enemy -- John Walker Lindh. In an attempt at dismissal of his indictment, Lindh's lawyers made first-amendment noises about his "right to associate with unpopular and disfavored groups." The arguments, of course, didn't fly, and Lindh was successfully prosecuted for conspiring to provide support to terrorists.

ISM does likewise. By impeding the destruction of smuggling tunnels, its members give active support to groups like Hamas, a terrorist organization responsible for the murders of Americans as well as Israelis.

Since American fighting forces are currently engaged against terror worldwide, ISM's actions could well be described as treasonous. The group's members could also be fairly characterized as enemy combatants -- particularly by Israel. In analogous circumstances, a senior U.S. defense official last month said that foreigners who go to Baghdad to volunteer as human shields could be considered war combatants "since they're working in the service of the Iraqi government."

Those who interfere with fighting troops bear responsibility for whatever fate they suffer. Officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base, for instance,  revealed recently that they will not rule out the use of deadly force against protesters -- protestors, mind you, not active collaborators with the enemy in a war zone -- who infiltrate the military complex in time of war. "This is not fun and games anymore," said Vanderberg's Maj. Stacee Bako. "They're illegal intruders."

Of course, like the Israelis, we Americans don't use lethal force unnecessarily against such people, but neither are we the guarantors of their safety. U.S. General Tommy Franks recently said that we will "do our best" to avoid making casualties of human shields in Iraq but added that "I will tell you, we will not be 100% successful." Israel, battling relentless terror in its backyard, won't either.

Of Rachel Corrie, Saddam ally Yasser Arafat said: "Our people embrace her and offer her our blessings." But as American and Israeli troops man the front lines against terror, those outside of Arafat's circle will save our blessings for them.

If Corrie hadn't lost her life giving aid and comfort to the enemy, she should have been arrested -- either by the Israelis, or the moment she got home.

Steven Zak is an attorney is California.

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