There’s been an interesting discussion on the Forensic Linguistics mailing list about why the U.S. press reports about Iraq have for some time been using the term insurgents. This seems to be parallel to the German use of Aufständische, which had struck me. Was the term chosen for political reasons?

There are certain terms in international law with a specific meaning: insurgents are distinguished from belligerents.

Wikipedia thinks the term insurgent is hard to use without taking a political position.

Janet Cotterill recommended WebCorp, which searches the whole Web and produces concordances and collocates around a node search word of your choice. This is great. You can have it email you the results if you don’t want to hang around waiting. However, it doesn’t reveal much about insurgents at a cursory glance, except that many of them are Iraqi insurgents.

At all events, in international law there are subjects of law, such as nations, and belligerent and insurgent communities may sometimes be regarded as subjects of the law. To quote Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law:

bq. A subject of the law is an entity capable of possessing international rights and duties and having the capacity to maintain its rights by bringing international claims.

or Ignaz Seidl-Hohenveldern, Völkerrecht:

bq. Völkerrechtssubjekte sind diejenigen natürliche und juristischen Personen, auf die die im vorigen Abschnitt behandelten Völkerrechtsregeln … unmittelbar Anwendung finden, denen daraus also unmittelbar Rechte und/oder Pflichten erwachsen.

Belligerent communities seem to be in control of an area and some way further towards possible independence.

This (see sidebar) was also quoted, from Newsweek, May 24th, italics by me:

Geneva III defines the rights of POWs, including not only captured armed forces, militias and resistance groups but civilian support staff. POWs can refuse to answer questions beyond name, rank and serial number and are guaranteed basic levels of humane treatment. Two 1977 protocols, not U.S.-signed, extend coverage to insurgents as long as they obey the laws of war.

4 thoughts on “Insurgents/Aufständische/WebCorp

  1. It is mysterious. Who originally started using it in the USA? I wonder if the Iraq blogs have dealt with it.
    Apparently Bush has frequently used the phrase ‘Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters’ and ‘the war against Saddam’. But these people called insurgents are not Saddam loyalists. They are groups of Sunni and Shiite people, not individuals. ‘Resistance’ would be more positive than ‘insurgent’, which I find slightly negative. But some argue that the term is positive and correct and was chosen by the U.S. government in a moment of honesty. It’s also been suggested that the term is broad and vague and therefore useful for the government because it’s relatively meaningless.
    Why they don’t say terrorists I don’t know. It’s been pointed out that you hear of Islamic terrorists but not Christian terrorists (outside abortion clinics in the USA) or Jewish terrorists.
    Another view is that the word insurgents began to be used to indicate U.S. vulnerability.

  2. I repeat my comments from the Bilingual Blogging entry of 30th April.

    Prior to the Iraqi prison abuse scandal – no wonder Geore W. Bush wanted American immunity from prosecution at the International War Crimes Tribunal – US Generals on CNN TV were referring to Iraqi resistance fighter as ‘insurgent ELEMENTS’ and US soldiers as ‘heroic INDIVIDUALS and selfless HUMAN BEINGS’.

    I would argue that the very tag of ‘elements’ was designed to deny and deprive the Iraqis involved of basic HUMAN rights and turn them into zoo-animals.

  3. Sorry about that, Adrian – I had forgotten it, because it was in a different context. Yes, that does sound negative.

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