Thursday, June 02, 2005

The White House thinks it's outrageous. No, not the torture, Amnesty's press release.

Under the Geneva conventions, which we have ratified and promised to observe, detainees during or after wars or organized armed conflicts must _all_ be treated humanely. The 3rd convention specifies how prisoners of war are to be treated. The 4th convention specifies how civilians, including combatants who have laid down their arms, are to be treated.

The 4th Convention prohibits the following abuses to civilian detainees:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Clearly we have violated those rules.

The Bush White House initially tried to argue that detainees in the so-called War on Terror were not really soldiers and that the Geneva Conventions therefore did not apply. And that we could do whatever we wished, including hold people without trial in various concentration camps around the world. Hopefully this claim has not fallen into the memory hole.

But this is clearly prohibited by the 4th Convention, if the 3rd Convention does not apply, and if the prisoners are indeed, as the White House argued, not POWs.

And it follows that the White House, and not any individual rogue soldier, is responsible for this fundamental violation of the Geneva Conventions. The inmates at Guantanamo were not detained in that place without trial by Lyndie England. They were detained by George Bush. And now that our own courts have ruled that some sort of judicial review must be afforded the detainees at Guantanamo, and the White house is grudgingly complying, we still have the much larger problem of a much larger number of inmates being held illegally under the Geneva Conventions, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and God knows where else.

Amnesty International's call for other governments signatory to the Conventions to initiate criminal prosecution of the individuals responsible would seem to be correct, if understandably unpopular in the White House, simply because of the existence of these Gulags. One does not need to argue about Lyndie England. The policy of establishing these Gulags for people the White House itself insists are not prisoners of war, came from the White House.

There is also a lot of evidence that violations of the prohibition against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" were the result of direct orders from Rumsfeld.

I think the Pinochet case explains the strong White House reaction to Amnesty International's press release. There is no statute of limitations for the criminal violations of human rights that have occurred on Mr. Bush's watch.

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