Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"Terrorists don't care about the Geneva Conventions"

In the course of his testimony explaining why the Geneva Conventions apply to Iraqi prisoners but not al-Qaida detainees, Stephen Cambone, DOD spokesman and Undersecretary for Intelligence and Saying Things That Are Scary, said some stuff that was, well, scary.

Note: I think the administration is right that al-Qaida detainees don't qualify as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. But the Geneva Conventions apply to anyone detained during an armed conflict. And the rationale Cambone gave is wrong and disturbing.
Long before the war in Iraq, the president made a determination that the Geneva Convention did not apply to Al Qaida detainees. That decision was made because the Geneva Conventions govern conflicts between states and Al Qaida is not a state, much less a signatory of the convention.

This is just wrong; it's not even complicated. Article 3, common to all the Geneva Conventions, states:

Article 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:

And it goes on to explain that you can't torture people, take hostages, or commit "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment". Even if it's not an armed conflict between states.

Okay, that's just a minor thing, maybe. But if the administration now believes the Geneva Conventions only apply in wars between states, the parties in any of the planet's ugly civil wars can now use its rationale to excuse war crimes. It will be impossible for the US to criticize the Sudanese government of many of its war crimes in Darfur, for example, because we now apparently believe that conflict is not covered by the Geneva Convention.

Anyway, here's where it gets really disturbing. When we last left Cambone, he was explaining why it would be a bad idea to apply the Geneva Conventions to suspected al-Qaida prisoners:
Moreover the conventions forbid the targeting of civilians and require that military forces wear designated uniforms to distinguish them from noncombatants.

Terrorists don't care about the Geneva Convention, nor do they abide by its guidelines. They deliberately target civilians, for example, and have brutalized and murdered innocent Americans.

To grant terrorists the rights they so cruelly reject would make a mockery of the Geneva Conventions.

Is he absolutely insane? We DO grant the terrorists the rights they so cruelly reject. That's what makes us the good guys.

If we start playing tit-for-tat with the terrorists, as Cambone seems to think we should, the world is going to get a lot uglier a lot faster than any of us are ready for.