Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Next Year in Tehran
With shock and awe
Since the Iran/Iraq conflict began in 1980, the ICRC has supervised the repatriation of almost 97,000 prisoners of war on both sides. In order to complete this process and ascertain the fate of those unaccounted for, the ICRC is pursuing its dialogue with both countries regarding their obligations under international humanitarian law.
In the most dispiriting U.S. setback, at least five Americans were seized and as many as 17 killed in separate incidents, the most U.S. casualties suffered on any single day of the war. U.S. commanders described some of the incidents as "ruses" that lured the Americans into captivity and death...U.S. officials confirmed that prisoners had been taken, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington that if American prisoners were shown on television, then "those pictures are a violation of the Geneva Conventions." "It is illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating," Rumsfeld said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
The Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera has justified broadcasting pictures of what it says are American dead and prisoners of war by stating: "We did what our professional duty calls upon us to do. We aired news." US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today it would be "unfortunate" if other television networks carried the same pictures and American television networks indicated they were treating the al-Jazeera footage, shot by Iraqi television, with caution, with some opting to show only a still image of the dead soldiers or only limited excerpts of the questioning of POWs. CNN initially said it had decided not to air footage of the dead soldiers in the United States and would show only a single frame which did not allow identification. But later today it ran brief video of one of the captured soldiers being questioned by the Iraqis, saying it had confirmed the relatives of the man had been notified of his capture.
"The Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war," Rumsfeld said. "And if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated." Interviewed later on CNN, Rumsfeld said, "and needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate".
The Secretary seems unaware of the requirements of international humanitarian law. As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States is required to treat every detained combatant humanely, including unlawful combatants. The United States may not pick and choose among them to decide who is entitled to decent treatment.
The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves...We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.
What practical effect does the third Geneva Convention have on the way the residents of Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay should be treated? The camp meets the requirement to be located out of harm's way. The accommodation should be of the same general standard as that enjoyed by the forces of the captor. So either, the US marines will have to take the roof off their barrack blocks, or there needs to be an upgrade in the weather protection of the cages. Medical care must be provided, as must food and water. We have no reason to doubt that these standards will be met by the US, although the Convention requires that the normal diet of the prisoners must be taken into account. They should be given a "capture card" to let next of kin know how they are. This does not appear to have happened. They are not obliged to give information beyond their name, rank and number, and this may be a real problem for the US interrogators. The ICRC must be allowed regular access to the prisoners. If the US takes the view that none of its captives are POWs, then the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 comes into play. Here there is a series of rights of due process such as presumption of innocence, fair trial, and the ability to make defence arrangements.
None of this seems to have worried Defense Secretary Rumsfeld who has publicly made known his lack of concern about the captives' conditions. The arrangements for secret military tribunals do little to reassure the international community. It looks as though we may be going down another US led path on international treaties which will make us all less safe.
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