There's a certain amount of irony in the (IMO) almost certainty that the general surrendered upon receiving the note not because of any factually based conclusion that the US military would harm his family if he failed to comply, but because he knew how he would have behaved in a similar situation.
Without contorting too much, I think that the detaining of the wife and kid was actually for their safety. We were out to capture or kill the general and if the wife and kid were nearby it is likely that they could have been killed or injured. By detaining them, we were actually insuring the absolute safety of his family until he turned himself in.
Iraq can and has taken hostages among their own population, and has killed, maimed, and assaulted them. This is the reason that a general working for Saddam Hussein, and who has been listening to propaganda about the United States, would find it perfectly credible that US forces would kill his family if he did not surrender. Call me unsympathetic, but delusional ignorance is an inherent drawback for working for a sadistic dictator--I'm not inclined to feel too apologetic about the fact that Saddam's little minions can be tricked into coming in out of the cold in this manner.
The sheer ludicrousness of these arguments, which are transparently apologist, masks the extreme danger of such a polemical approach to our Iraq policy, which is that by papering over the mistakes, there is no process of review and improvement.
If our efforts to rebuild Iraq as a free society are to suceed, we must avoid all appearance of impropriety. We must never even appear to have strayed from the high ground.
Forget the Geneva convention. At the bare minimum, this showed poor judgement. And it ultimately harms what we are trying to do there. And for that reason alone we should all condemn it strongly.
There's a lot more analysis of this by Matthew, Jim, and Kevin:
At first we're led to believe that we're gaining ground in Iraq due to a simple shift in tactics, but a few days later we learn that what this really means is that we're kidnapping families and holding them hostage in order to increase the "quality and quantity of intelligence."
mark my words - the means will influence the ends. The Shi'a are watching.
UPDATE: Phil Carter weighs in along the same lines, but does so with a solid understanding of military law:
Of course, that's just a legal footnote about Protocol I. The U.S. did sign the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949, and it explicitly precludes hostage taking in armed conflict:
Art. 34. The taking of hostages is prohibited.
There is also a norm of international law known as "distinction" -- which literally means distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. This principle would probably preclude the kind of conduct conducted by COL Hogg in Iraq, since the Iraqi Lt. Gen.'s family members are unquestionably non-combatants.
Doing what's unlawful is one thing; doing something which is counter-productive is quite another. We're trying to rebuild Iraq as a kinder, gentler place -- a nation that contributes to regional stability, economic growth, personal liberty, etc. To accomplish our mission, we need to win the Iraqis' hearts and minds. Kidnapping the wives and daughters of our adversaries is not a way to win hearts and minds -- it's a way to squeeze their private parts. This is the kind of tactic that can backfire, bigtime.
Meanwhile. Zack weighs in over at Tacitus' original comment thread:
Tacitus is right; this tactic does seem to work in Iraq. I know that it also works in crimial cases in a number of countries. And we all know what kind of scumbags some criminals can be. So we should go ahead and promote this policy against criminals here in the US. If a criminal has disappeared and cannot be found by law enforcement, we take his family into custody until he gives himself up. If the scumbag then doesn't confess, we threaten him about his family.
I can assure you that this will have a chilling effect on crime.