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More on the Geneva Convention

Joi Ito has linked to my previous article on Al Jazeera and the Geneva Convention, with a discussion going in the comments there.

To my mind, there are two questions to be asked:

  1. Is the US correct in claiming that video footage being shown of US prisoners of war held by Iraq is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
  2. Is the US stance on this issue inconsistent with its treatment of prisoners captured within Afghanistan?
For reference, here's a link to the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Article 13 of the Convention states:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

I think the US has a case -- though certainly not an open-and-shut one -- that showing video of prisoners is a violation of the Convention's prohibition against "public curiousity." However, it's not clear to me why footage taken of Iraqis surrendering to coalition forces and being taken into captivity by them is not a violation of this same provision. The US government's position appears to be that to film the surrender and capture of forces is acceptable, but to film them afterwards is not. That seems to me to be a very fine distinction.

More seriously, and as argued here previously, the US government's position on the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq is utterly inconsistent with its position that prisoners captured within Afghanistan are "unlawful combatants," not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to deny Geneva Convention protections to prisoners taken in one conflict, then to show indignance over relatively minor and arguable violations of the Convention by one's opponent in a subsequent conflict.


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George Monbiot has a detailed article on this subject. An eye-opening detail is a little-publicized massive war crime in Afghanistan, overseen by American special forces. A film which Rumsfeld has tried to suppress details the massacre.

Khalid, thanks for the links. Regarding Monbiot's article, I agree with his criticisms of Camp X-Ray and how the detention of prisoners violates the Geneva Convention on multiple accounts.

As for the film Afghan Massacre, I haven't seen it, nor have I seen serious fact-checking performed on it. I would want to see an independent, non-partisan assessment of its veracity (such as by Spinsanity) before relying on the film's portrayal of events.

In my mind, there are basically two questions on the Iraq war. 1) Should we be at war at Iraq? 2) If so, should we have arrived here by a different process?

At this point, my most significant hope is a quick end of the war through the death of Hussein. I think that many, including other progressives. share this point of viedw.

As for the rest -- geneva conventions, etc. -- it is all a standard set of PR posturing. On both sides. There isn't a serious issue here yet. There could be, but the real issue is what happens when the cameras are off or not, and what the broadcasting.

My two cents on the questions above: 1) yes, being @ war is ok, but 2) it should have been a *very* different process. Of course, with 1), it will be embarrasing to discover no weapons that were allegedly there.

Reid, I agree that the questions you're asking are critical ones. Your answers to them fit with mine, which also happen to fit with Thomas Friedman's -- yes, going to war is the right thing to do under certain circumstances, but no, we didn't get here the right way and it's going to make our lives more difficult for a long time to come. As Friedman says, though, his goal now is that we take the lemons and make lemonade out of them.

With regard to the issues of the Geneva Convention, as I've written here before, my concern is for the US' wholesale disregard for the Convention with respect to the prisoners taken in Afghanistan. I think it's a precedent that is dangerous both to our civil liberties and to the safety of our soldiers in this and future conflicts.

If I was a prisoner of war in Iraqi hands, I would feel a lot better after knowing that my picture has been on the TV networks. That way, I won't just disappear in some torture facility without anyone being able to ask questions.

So I doubt the wisdom of American leaders asking the Iraqis to stop the video footage, as long as one is only concerned with the safety of the POWs.

That changes if you think about the propaganda effects. If you think that seeing American POWs on American TV channels will weaken support for the illegal war in America, you might want to stop the American media from showing those videos.

So I think that the American government position is not only hypocritical considering the Afghanistan POWs and the fact that the violation of the UN Charter by the illegal war is far more serious, even if the Geneva Convention can be understood in that way.

I suspect that stopping these videos might be good for the propaganda war, but bad for the safety of the POWs. Obviously, the latter concern should be the more important one.

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