Geneva Conventions

On 17 April 2003, the Heritage Foundation produced a "fact sheet" on possible Iraqi violations of the Geneva Conventions. They examined 27 Iraqi actions and cited 38 possible violations. The following two items are good examples:

Iraq's Actions

  • On April 1, PFC Jessica Lynch, a member of the 507th maintenance company captured on March 23, was rescued from a hospital in the city of Nasiriyah. She was badly injured, suffering from two broken legs and severe back injuries. PFC Lynch was not allowed to eat for the nine days of her internment.


If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

  1. Article 26 of the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners. Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war.

Iraq's Actions

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross was blocked by Iraq from seeing American prisoners of war as required by the Geneva Conventions.


If proven upon further investigation, this action would violate:

  1. Article 126 of the Third Geneva Convention

Representatives or delegates of the Protecting Powers shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners of war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labour, and shall have access to all premises occupied by prisoners of war; they shall also be allowed to go to the places of departure, passage and arrival of prisoners who are being transferred. They shall be able to interview the prisoners, and in particular the prisoners' representatives, without witnesses, either personally or through an interpreter. Representatives and delegates of the Protecting Powers shall have full liberty to select the places they wish to visit. The duration and frequency of these visits shall not be restricted. Visits may not be prohibited except for reasons of imperative military necessity, and then only as an exceptional and temporary measure. The delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross shall enjoy the same prerogatives. The appointment of such delegates shall be submitted to the approval of the Power detaining the prisoners of war to be visited.

These examples are also quite interesting because President Bush is now claiming that Geneva Conventions rules on treatment of prisoners are unclear. After nearly 50 years, all of the sudden, the rules are considered "unclear." Funny, the Heritage Foundation had absolutely zero difficulty citing these "unclear" rules when it was Saddam Hussein and his Baathist followers who were going to be held accountable to them. Here's President Bush on the rules now:

QUESTION: ... If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea and they were roughed up and those governments said, "Well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions."...

BUSH: My reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you name adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. That's my reaction.

We're trying to clarify law. We're trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards.

And let me just repeat: We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don't have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward.

You cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law. And they're not going to. They -- let me finish please -- they will not violate the law.

You can ask this question all you want, but the bottom line is -- and the American people have got to understand this -- that this program won't go forward if there's vague standards applied like those in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It's just not going to go forward.

You can't ask a young professional on the front line of protecting this country to violate law.

I agree of course, that the US should not ask intelligence officers to violate the law, but what exactly is it that's unclear about the law? No one prior to President Bush in 2006 appeared to have any trouble understanding the law. I completely agree with the questioner here:

QUESTION: But, sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit, as they see fit, you're saying that you'd be OK with that?

BUSH: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article 3 we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

As the Heritage Foundation makes clear above, Article 3 and all of the other sections of the Geneva Conventions are already quite clear. If Article 3 needs further clarifying, then clarification needs to be made in the context of international negotiations. To simply "hope" that other countries adopt the standards that the US ultimately adopts seems like an astonishingly naive way to go about changing international rules of conduct. If Article 3 needs further clarifying, then Bush needs to designate people to re-convene at Geneva along with as many other nations as possible, to re-negotiate the Conventions. For the US to arbitrarily and unlaterally decide to reinterpret the Conventions constitutes an open invitation to all the other countries of the world to toss the Conventions into the trash can. The "new standards" are NOT clear and will NOT protect US troops from being abused by our nation's enemies.

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