Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Half Measure

The Pentagon announced in a July 7 memo that suspected terrorist detainees, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, are entitled to treatment consistent with 'Common Article 3' of the Geneva Conventions:

Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(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.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict. (source: International Committee of the Red Cross)

This is an about face of the administrations stated policy that 'non-combatant' detainees did not fall under the protection of the Geneva conventions. "The administration also has decided that even prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons abroad must be treated in accordance with international standards, an interpretation that would prohibit prisoners from being subjected to harsh treatment in interrogations, several U.S. officials said." (Washington Post - 7/12/06)

This announcement comes on the heels of the Supreme Court 5-3 ruling in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, striking down the legality of the administrations use of "military tribunals". The legal procedures used in these tribunals forbid among other things, calling defense witnesses and being able to see any of the evidence that is being used by the prosecution. To me that sounds like it should be illegal and is a legal stone's throw away from the 'procedures' that Saddam Hussein is claiming he used before executing over 100 residents of Dujaill in his ongoing trial.

So after years of international and domestic outcry about the treatment and legal status of the Guantanamo detainees and others around the world, from institutions like Amnesty International, the ACLU and the United Nations, this administration is finally changing it's tune only after the Supreme Court declared it illegal and the Congress threatened to pass legislation to declare it illegal. I suppose this is the current administration's idea of checks and balances: they'll finally give in when both the Supreme Court and Congress AND the entire international community lines up against them and/or threatens legal action.

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