Sunday, May 16, 2004

Lesson #1: Geneva Convention and the Treatment of POWs 

That link above brings you to the actual text of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of POWs. If anything disturbs me about the political climate, more than the superfluous hatred people have for those with opposing points of view, it's the way everyone seems to be trying to interpret and scream outrage over laws that they have never read and never bothered to understand.

Scroll down to article 4, and you learn that not every combatant is protected under Geneva. Only uniformed soldiers, who one can recognize as a soldier from a distance, is protected. This means that in a geurilla war, such as in Iraq, Geneva is not relevent. The same goes for terrorists, who work to blend into the civilian population. Now, there is a downside to this as well. American CIA agents and other spies are not eligible for Geneva protection, nor are our military special forces, if they are caught without their uniforms on.

Our contractors, who seem to be the favored targets of Iraqi/Al Qaeda insurgents these days, however, ARE protected under Geneva. Article 4, Section 4.

Article 13 is the first article that mentions the protections gauranteed the POWs, and it seems intentionally vague. They are pretty strict on the idea that a POW cannot be killed, subject to medical experimentation, or mutilated, but beyond that, it doesn't seem to disallow most forms interrogative abuse. They are protected from "Public Curiousity," which leads me to believe CBS broke the law when they aired the Abu Ghraib photos.

Article 17 is pretty damning, prohibiting any sort of means to interrogate information from a POW.

Article 26 specifically demands that POWs are not denied tobacco. Not particularly relevent to the conversation, but interesting nonetheless.

Article 31 demands medical attention go to the POW. This means the dental check we gave to Saddam, which caused such a fury at the time, was not only legal but mandated by Geneva.

Article 35 is rather creepy, since it seems to encourage militaries to capture enemy chaplains so that they may practice for the POWs.

Article 42 demands that weapons cannot be used on POWs trying to escape, which raises a number of questions. "Why does anyone STAY in a POW camp?" is the most obvious. (The obvious answer is that any detaining power will ignore this rule and shoot you.)

Now, I have gone well beyond any passage that would have any relevence to our treatment toward the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. With the purported rape abuse, its obvious that those in charge of Abu Ghraib did overstep their grounds both legally and morally.

However, the other abuses may not be tantamount to "torture" under Geneva. The nakedness may have been unpleasant, but as long as they were not forced to stay naked for long periods of time, or weren't exposed to the sun and allowed to burn, it cannot be considered torture (in that it doesn't kill or mutilate). The climate of Iraq is hardly one where nakedness will expose you to any additional disease. I've never been to Iraq, but my understanding is that the weather is quite warm.

The pictures also were not necessarily illegal, until CBS aired them!!!!! Public humiliation was banned, but the illusion of it was not. Those pictures may have been taken as a means to convince Ba'ath and Al Qaeda operatives to give information that would save American lives, and I think we can all assume that they were never meant for public consumption, whether they were taken in a best case, or a worst case scenerio.

And, of course, we have to assume these people were conventional soldiers for this discussion to even be relevent. Geurilla fighters have no rights under Geneva at all. None. And it is very rare that Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, or any tiny little insurgent group in Iraq goes into battle wearing a national emblem, weapons displayed for all to see. Except for some of the Ba'ath Party soldiers from the beginning of the war, there are probably almost no prisoners in Iraq who are eligible for protection at all.

I hope we all learned something today. I learned to pick shorter documents to review. Tune in to the next lesson when I either review the Patriot Act, or disclose how much money Halliburton has donated to the DNC over the years. Whichever is less work.

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