In addition to the horrific manner of their murders, the three men beheaded by ISIS shared the status of non-combatants, a status protected by Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits “violence to life and person,” hostage taking, “outrages upon personal dignity” and arbitrary execution. So much for the Geneva Conventions.
Steven Sotloff and James Foley were freelance journalists covering events in Syria. David Haines was bringing humanitarian aid to a Syrian refugee camp. These are dangerous – and critical – roles in war zones, and those who perform them knowingly put themselves at great risk. But to be singled out for torture and public execution is a sign that the rules of war do not apply. It also raises the question of why we have rules for wars which have always brought disproportionate destruction and death to innocents.
ISIS has made a mockery of those rules, and we have hastened their demise with our justification of torture and failure to close Guantanamo.
And now Foley, Sotloff and Haines are being blamed for their own deaths. They had no business being there, we are told, as if they were seeking only their self-aggrandizement. But the world needs, more than ever, men and women who will risk their lives to bring aid to the suffering and report what is happening to the rest of the world. We cannot build walls and turn our backs.
I do not know what motivated the three men, but I admire their courage and their commitment.