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Revise the Geneva Convention??

Tue, 05 Feb 2002 21:36:35
Subject: Revise the Geneva Convention??
From: John Judge

As It Happens, the BBC equivalent of NPR's All Things Considered, reported tonight 2/5/02 on a debate emerging in the Canadian parliament about whether Canadian troops in Afghanistan should be turning over captured combatants to US forces when the Canadian Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister have admitted to "doubts" about whether the US is following the Geneva Accords with the current prisoners at Guantanamo.

Part of this is based on US arrogance about the matter, and part on calls for a revision of the allegedly "outdated" Accords. AIH interviewed Jeremy Powst of the Insititue on International Law at University of Houston, Texas. He said that the Accords were sufficient as written to cover the situation and that Human Rights and international law due process rights of criminals apply to the captives as well, even if Geneva rules were not applied.

Article 3 of the Accords addresses "insurgents", and was a topic of much discussion during Vietnam and other insurgency wars, where POW rules should have applied. Of course the horrific treatment of POW's by the South Vietnamese government, with US sanction, in the "Tiger Cages" was worse than the mistreatments of American POW's by the North. Powst raised the problem of bringing the laws of war down to the level of so-called terrorists, instead of the rules of international criminal law.

Formal combatants who do not commit war crimes cannot be charged when captured for acts of war under the Accords. This raises questions of charging anyone in the Taliban forces, for instance. It also raises the possibility of defining the USS Cole and the Pentagon as legitimate military targets, for instance. Bush's clever ploy of positioning the prisoners between international criminal law and laws of war may backfire on the US.

Powst had pointed out on an earlier broadcast that if any doubt exists about the status of captives, they are to be treated as POW's under Geneva rules until an independent tribunal can be held to determine their status. The arrogance of the US is reflected in Rumsfeld's statement that he "has no doubts, they are not POW's". The refusal of the United States from the first to treat these attacks as mass murders and crimes against humanity, in order to justify an undeclared, illegal and extra-legal international war against anyone they decide to target, is the continuing problem.

There is certainly no need to revise the Geneva Conventions, which I am sure the US would like to abandon at this point. Here is a telling letter to the editor following the 1998 missile attack of Clinton on Afghanistan and Sudan with the same justification being given us today (retaliate against terrorists and those who harbor them) addressing exactly the same issue:

No state has the right to exact retribution through an armed attack on another country. . . . Nor does any state have the right to launch missiles against a country it believes to harbor terrorists . . . President Clinton's bald assertion that the U.S. bombing was justifiable because the Sudan and Afghanistan have consistently failed to heed U.S. demands to eject Osama bin Laden and others is extraordinary. . . . The real victim [of the missile attacks] was a world in which rules matter and those responsible for acts of violence are brought to justice, not simply killed. (James C. Hathaway, Prof. of International Law, U. of Michigan, NY Times, 8/23/98, p. A14)

Most US citizens know little of US law, less of international law, and almost nothing of human rights or Geneva Convention rules. This allows the government to dupe them into agreeing to follow whatever they can be stirred up to support without questioning it. The US violates the laws of war in every modern conflict it takes part in, and then claims other governments don't follow them because they are "evil".

The US also justifies not calling the captives POW's because then they "cannot be interrogated". In fact, no one can be forced to answer interrogations no matter what their status is, combatant, non-combatant, criminal, or so-called "unlawful combatant". That didn't stop the US troops from torturing Vietnamese captives or throwing the less cooperative of them from helicopters to convince the others.

The complete isolation of these captives must give us pause and raise concerns about their treatment, and Canadians are right to refuse to be part of violations of international laws they have always tried to protect. Bush keeps claiming that the terrorists attacked the US because they hate our way of life, our pluralism, our resources, and our democratic traditions. Does anyone wonder why Canada is not a target then?

In Pittsburgh today, Bush stated again his theme that one must either be "for us or against us", and then claimed that all those who want their children and grandchildren to live in a peaceful world will be for his policies. If you want peace, in other words, you have to be for war. The slogans of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984 came to mind:




History, law, conduct of war, evil and good, justice, all will be rewritten by the warfare state. The meanings of critical concepts will be reversed and twisted until there is no way to express another point of view. The language of the government diatribe becomes less and less nuanced, as if a twelve-year-old were talking to us about a video war game. The problem is not that the emperor has no clothes, it is that he has no brain. But who will have the nerve to say so?


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