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Geneva Convention Hypocrisy

From an interview of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted by CNN's Wolf Blitzer this morning:

BLITZER: [W]ithin the past few moments, the Al-Jazeera Arabic language television network has broadcast Iraqi television video of American POWs that they say are now in the hands of Iraqi officials...

RUMSFELD: ... [T]he Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do. And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate... it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if, in fact, that's what's taking place, to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner...

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, this broadcast is being seen live around the world, including in Iraq. What is your message to those Iraqi government officials who now have control of these American prisoners?

RUMSFELD: That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.

The Bush administration wants to have its Geneva Convention cake and eat it, too.

In Afghanistan, facing an opponent incapable of mounting organized resistance, and deploying extremely limited numbers of its own ground troops, the US declares captured enemy soldiers to be "unlawful combatants," ships them to Guantánamo Bay, out of the reach of US courts, and declares it can hold them indefinitely without access to counsel or family. In Iraq, facing an opponent capable of fierce opposition and able to capture US personnel, and with large numbers of US troops on the ground, the US gives notice that it expects its prisoners to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

International agreements are not meant to be optional, observe-them-when-it-suits-you accords. They are meant to apply in all cases. In the specific case of the Geneva Convention, its power derives from the explicit agreement of all signatories to observe it all times. Each signatory should be able to reasonably expect that all other signatories will observe it, with reciprocal humane treatment of prisoners of war the end result. If, though, a nation chooses to ignore its obligations under the Geneva Convention in one conflict, it has little basis to believe that opponents in future conflicts will observe theirs.

Besides the obvious erosion of civil liberties being committed at Guantánamo, by ignoring its obligations with regard to prisoners of war, the Bush administration is endangering captured US soldiers, both in the the current conflict and in those to come.


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