Is it legitimate for the Pentagon to have a daycare center?

The United States is a signatory to Convention IV of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which pertains to the protection of civilians in time of war. As an exercise let’s consider the question that forms the title of this post, “is it legitimate for the Pentagon to have a daycare center?” in the context of this treaty.

The Pentagon is the headquarters of the federal government’s Department of Defense and contains the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the Secretaries of the Army and Navy and innumerable other military offices. It is obviously a target of enormous military and symbolic value. During the Cold War the Pentagon campus was, with gallows humor, referred to as “Ground Zero”—the most likely target of a nuclear attack.

Until 2004 it had a daycare center. Citing safety concerns the Pentagon closed the center in 2004. Was having such a center on the premises of the Pentagon itself legiitimate under our obligations under the Convention?

The most relevant section of the Convention would appear to be Part II, Article 14:

In time of peace, the High Contracting Parties and, after the outbreak of hostilities, the Parties thereto, may establish in their own territory and, if the need arises, in occupied areas, hospital and safety zones and localities so organized as to protect from the effects of war, wounded, sick and aged persons, children under fifteen, expectant mothers and mothers of children under seven.

see also Article 19 of that part:

The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded.

While the daycare center was on its premises despite its obvious military use and value, the Pentagon was a dual-use structure. Some NATO countries apparently consider such dual-use structures off limits to attack (there was reluctance to bomb dual-use structures in Serbia during the NATO campaign there). My understanding of U. S. military doctrine is that the military value of the target must be weighed against the likelihood of civilian casualties or damage when determining whether such an attack should be made. Perhaps someone better informed than I could correct me on this or expand on this subject.

Considering that there’s no way to reduce the Pentagon’s value as a military target, the attack on the Pentagon on Septem 11, 2001 demonstrated that our ability to mitigate the risk against civilian casualties in such an attack was limited, and there’s no real necessity for the Pentagon to have such a dual use despite the ambiguities of signatories of the Convention toward their own civilian citizens, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that it is not legitimate for the Pentagon to have a daycare center.

However, it’s equally important to note that, in the event of an attack against the Pentagon that resulted in the death of children, the point of insult for the attack would not be the attack itself. It would be putting the daycare center there in the first place.

The hottest story in the blogosphere and, perhaps, in conventional news media today is the air assault on the Lebanese village of Qana that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 civilians, many of them women and children. In an opinion piece in the New York Post today Ralph Peters writes:

Qana was the perfect setup. Hezbollah fired rockets from a position near the building that the terrorists wanted the IDF to bomb. This time, Hezbollah probably didn’t “shoot and scoot” but let the launcher linger as bait. Hezbollah also may have fed the Israelis phony info about the doomed building serving as a terrorist safe house.

As for the women and children occupying the target, Hezbollah wrote them off as a necessary sacrifice. The terrorists would have sacrificed 570 innocents as readily as they did 57. Their will to win – at any cost – is their most formidable weapon.

Within the Israeli headquarters responsible for green-lighting the strike – where staffers are undoubtedly weary after weeks of war – the targeting data didn’t get the “Are we sure?” grilling that doctrine demands. And – because of the Olmert government’s unwillingness to commit serious numbers of ground troops (or even a heavy special-operations presence) – there were no Israeli eyes on the scene to confirm the target’s validity.

Anxious to hurt Hezbollah, a chain of command grown tired and careless ended up by harming Israel terribly.

Make no mistake: the point of insult in the attack has been Hezbollah’s practice of placing its rocket launchers in residential areas and, indeed, in a non-governmental organization that is itself dual-use—a combination armed faction, political party, and social services agency—being armed at all. This has been the case for years and the UN and the “international community” (whatever that may be) have been silent and impotent. Most of the outrage is directed at Israel.

9 comments… add one

  • Tom Schaffner

    Isn’t there a difference here between strategic and tactical targets? The Pentagon is a strategic target. During the Cold War, Moscow would have been a strategic target for nuclear weapons. Are you saying no daycare facilities should have been in Moscow…or all of D.C. for that matter?

    There seems to me to be a world of difference between your Pentagon example, and placing artillery near a daycare center in a tactical (battlefield setting), knowing that it will be subject to return fire.

    I have no military background, nor do I understand the Geneva Convention, so correct me if I’m misunderstanding something about your argument.

  • I’d say the Pentagon was both a tactical and a strategic target and I was considering it as such in my post. It has actual command and control functions.

  • tcobb

    When did the US become a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention? I was under the impression that we were not. For that matter, is Israel?

  • Tom Schaffner

    I don’t know. But I think just from a safety and practical point of view, it was wise to remove daycare from the Pentagon after 9/11.

  • tcobb:

    We’ve been a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (I-IV) for more than 50 years, Israel for longer. You may be thinking of the additional Protocols to which we are not a signatory.

    Tom Schaffner:

    I agree.  And that was the reasoning the Pentagon gave.

  • alan

    Without going into the moral complexity of things the IDF now says no rockets were fired from Qana the day of the strike.

    This has been known for quite a while now and the fact that Israel supporters continue to repeat the previous claim does reflect poorly on their integrity.

  • George

    It really doesn’t matter whether the Pentagon is a strategic or tactical target. On 9/11 the Pentagon was a target. Period. The enemy we (and the Israelis) are dealing with have, as a maximum, a 10th Century mentality. The Geneva Conventions are meaningless to these people. Their only possible interest in the Geneva Conventions are with respect to the propaganda war they wage against the enemies of Islam.

    WRT the Israelis hitting “civilian targets” in Lebanon, let it be understood that the Hizballah have spent the past six years, and more, building semi-hardened storage sites for their weaponry — and then building things like schools, clinics, and housing complexes over them.

    These people are no fools; they know the value of propaganda and the gulibility of “world opinion.” Keep one thing at the front of your minds at all times: these people live in the 10th century; they do not think like the “enlightened” people in Western culture.

  • How long did the Pentagon have the daycare? And how long does it take for such an action to become a Tradition, and thus part of this “International Law” that is not law?

  • That’s a good question, Dan, and it occurred to me, too. I haven’t been able to uncover that.

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