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Were The Rebels Illegal Combatants?

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  • Were The Rebels Illegal Combatants?

    Recently I've been reading up on the US justification for how we should treat "illegal combatants" in the War on Terror. What I was wondering is that using the justification of today for their treatment during the Civil War Era, would it have been legal for the Federal forces to shoot, torture (enhanced interrogation) or otherwise maltreat any Rebel soldier that fell into their hands? After all the CSA was not recognized as a legal entity by the US or any other established country during the period. So therefore wouldn't anybody caught in arms against the US forces be an "illegal combatant"?

    Now while this might inflammatory to some, that is not my intent. What I'm trying to establish is that the US was incredibly lenient in it's treatment of Rebels taken under arms, considering how we treat "illegal combatants" today. As harsh as Jefferson Davis' treatment was to some, (and to me, no reason he had to be kept in chains) imagine if the US had "waterboarded" him? Or Lee? And then summarily executed them?

    I would argue that taken as whole, the US was incredibly forbearing and lenient in it's treatment of the Rebels.

    What say you?
    Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

  • #2
    What is the definition of illegal combatant? As I recall, some of the criteria include

    a) fighting for a legitimate government,
    b) wearing a uniform openly,
    c) having a defined chain of command.

    There are several other criteria which I cannot recall right now.

    Criterion (a) is perhaps debatable. Certainly, the Confederacy had an established government, albeit without international recognition. Criteria (b) and (c) were certainly met.

    Of course, the Geneva Convention had not yet been formulated, and I don't how prisoners of war were defined at the time.

    There was also a not-so-small matter of reciprocal retaliation which could be visited on captured Federals.
    Don't leave good whiskey for the damn Yankees!" John Hunt Morgan, Eagleport, Ohio, July 23, 1863

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    • #3
      I would say no just because of guthrieba's B and C.

      Now there was some raiders that deserved to be hung on sight, but that's a different matter.
      Credo quia absurdum.


      Quantum mechanics describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And yet it fully agrees with experiment. So I hope you can accept nature as She is - absurd! - Richard Feynman

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      • #4
        Guerrilla units could have been classified as unlawful or illegal combatants. Uniformed Confederate soldiers, fighting under the command of a responsible authority could not.
        Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

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        • #5
          If the Confederates were illegal combatants, so were all revolutionary combatants before they got international recognition. So, for example, the Patriots in the American Revolutionary War.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Bwaha View Post
            I would say no just because of guthrieba's B and C.

            Now there was some raiders that deserved to be hung on sight, but that's a different matter.
            Agreed.
            Don't leave good whiskey for the damn Yankees!" John Hunt Morgan, Eagleport, Ohio, July 23, 1863

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            • #7
              There's actually a slight fillip to the illegal combatants thing. See... the Paris Declaration was the declaration which basically illegalized privateering. The US did not sign it in 1856 when it was first drawn up, preferring to reserve the right to privateer against (basically) Great Britain in the event of a war.

              Privateering is, and remains, abolished;
              The neutral flag covers enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war;
              Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy's flag;
              Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.

              ...
              The present Declaration is not and shall not be binding, except between those Powers who have acceded, or shall accede, to it.
               Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law.

              The reason why this is important is that the US promptly decided that actually it rather liked the sound of the Paris rules when it was the blockading power having its commerce raided. But only for the duration of hostilities. (It's never signed.)

              This is, suffice to say, not a particularly "on" argument. But it puts Confederate privateering in a grey area (badum tish) - since the US clearly did not intend to abide by Paris rules against an enemy Paris signatory, it has very little right to complain when the enemy doesn't follow Paris rules against it.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by The Doctor View Post
                Guerrilla units could have been classified as unlawful or illegal combatants. Uniformed Confederate soldiers, fighting under the command of a responsible authority could not.
                Yes, I also agree with this. Well stated.

                Regards,
                Dennis
                If stupid was a criminal offense Sea Lion believers would be doing life.

                Shouting out to Half Pint for bringing back the big mugs!

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                • #9
                  Saphroneth

                  The difference being that the revolutionaries of the American colonies won their insurrection and maintained their laws with foreign recognition forthcoming. Thus a nation is born.

                  The southern Slave Lords reactionaries in the Confederation insurrection were crushed. Their laws thrown to the winds. They got no foreign recognition. Thus a nation was strangled in it's cradle of doom. I agreed with Lincoln: the Slave Lords never had a Confederate Nation.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by guthrieba View Post
                    What is the definition of illegal combatant? As I recall, some of the criteria include

                    a) fighting for a legitimate government,
                    b) wearing a uniform openly,
                    c) having a defined chain of command.

                    There are several other criteria which I cannot recall right now.

                    Criterion (a) is perhaps debatable. Certainly, the Confederacy had an established government, albeit without international recognition. Criteria (b) and (c) were certainly met.

                    Of course, the Geneva Convention had not yet been formulated, and I don't how prisoners of war were defined at the time.

                    There was also a not-so-small matter of reciprocal retaliation which could be visited on captured Federals.
                    (a) is most definitely debatable.

                    (b) was met but why does that make them legal combatants? If John Brown and his followers had worn uniforms and declared the Republic of Harper's Ferry, would they have had the same rights as the Confederates were granted?

                    (c) was met as well. But really, so what? There's usually someone in charge of "illegal combatants" as well. So why does that change how they're treated?

                    Excellent answer, btw.
                    Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Saphroneth View Post
                      If the Confederates were illegal combatants, so were all revolutionary combatants before they got international recognition. So, for example, the Patriots in the American Revolutionary War.
                      Exactly what I'm trying to understand. What constitutes a legal and an illegal combatant?

                      The Patriots did get recognition and allies while the war was still being fought whereas the Confederates did not. So the analogy doesn't really hold.

                      Guthrie has raised some excellent points on why the Rebels were considered legal combatants.

                      Going to wait some and see what the rest of the forum says.
                      Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by guthrieba View Post
                        What is the definition of illegal combatant? As I recall, some of the criteria include

                        a) fighting for a legitimate government,
                        b) wearing a uniform openly,
                        c) having a defined chain of command.

                        There are several other criteria which I cannot recall right now.

                        Criterion (a) is perhaps debatable. Certainly, the Confederacy had an established government, albeit without international recognition. Criteria (b) and (c) were certainly met.

                        Of course, the Geneva Convention had not yet been formulated, and I don't how prisoners of war were defined at the time.


                        There was also a not-so-small matter of reciprocal retaliation which could be visited on captured Federals.
                        Well, the fail B...

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                        • #13
                          I hereby submit the following document I'll list as Exhibit A in pursuit of a Grant Jury Indictment by this Noble Forum against CSA Major Generals Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby Smith as illegal combatants charged with murder and/or conspiracy to commit murder.

                          From US Official Records:

                          "Headquarters District of West Louisiana
                          Alexandria, February 4, 1864.
                          Major R.E. Wyche,
                          Commanding Battalion Louisiana State Troops:

                          Major: Forward to Brigadier General Polignac, at Harrisonburg (LA), the accompanying document at once. The Major General (Taylor) commanding directs that you will then move with your command in the direction of Holloway's Prairie for the purpose of scouring the parish of Rapides, north of Red River, in quest of jayhawkers and deserters. Two officers (Confederate) were attacked by a party of these men last evening about 6 miles from the point on the road to David's Ferry, and one of them was very severely wounded. Such outrages must be punished with a strong hand, and you are therefore directed to scour this portion of the country thoroughly, and every man found with arms in his hands, against whom reasonable suspicion exists of a determination to resist the laws, will be SHOT BY YOU ON THE SPOT. Such men MUST NOT BE ARREST. You will further arrest and send to this post every man capable of bearing arms, of whatever age, who cannot give substantial proof of his loyalty to the Government (CSA)."

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Bo Archer View Post
                            I hereby submit the following document I'll list as Exhibit A in pursuit of a Grant Jury Indictment by this Noble Forum against CSA Major Generals Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby Smith as illegal combatants charged with murder and/or conspiracy to commit murder.

                            From US Official Records:

                            "Headquarters District of West Louisiana
                            Alexandria, February 4, 1864.
                            Major R.E. Wyche,
                            Commanding Battalion Louisiana State Troops:

                            Major: Forward to Brigadier General Polignac, at Harrisonburg (LA), the accompanying document at once. The Major General (Taylor) commanding directs that you will then move with your command in the direction of Holloway's Prairie for the purpose of scouring the parish of Rapides, north of Red River, in quest of jayhawkers and deserters. Two officers (Confederate) were attacked by a party of these men last evening about 6 miles from the point on the road to David's Ferry, and one of them was very severely wounded. Such outrages must be punished with a strong hand, and you are therefore directed to scour this portion of the country thoroughly, and every man found with arms in his hands, against whom reasonable suspicion exists of a determination to resist the laws, will be SHOT BY YOU ON THE SPOT. Such men MUST NOT BE ARREST. You will further arrest and send to this post every man capable of bearing arms, of whatever age, who cannot give substantial proof of his loyalty to the Government (CSA)."
                            ?

                            Someone has more time on his hands than I do!

                            What actions were actually carried out? Kirby Smith also sent a letter to Taylor telling him to execute all Black Soldiers taken in battle. Anybody can word an order that is outrageous, but you need someone to actually carry the order through.

                            Pruitt
                            Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                            Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                            by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                            • #15
                              Thank You Pruitt

                              I have not had time to locate in US Official Records that particular Confederate Order for summary murder of American citizens but you are correct. I make a motion to enter that said document as Exhibit B pursuit to stated purpose. I also make motion to enroll one Pruitt acting as my fellow citizen attorney in the Noble Forum Grand Jury. I must insist you be placed under oath of law to prevent perjury.

                              We only need an indictment of conspiracy to commit murder, my friend, and not need of one who actually carried out the murder thereof. These defendants ordered summary murder without any legal hearing while being illegal combatants in their criminal roles.

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