Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Follow the Geneva Convention

by Michael Ratner

Secretary of State Colin Powell has added his voice to the chorus: It is in the best interests of the United States, he says, to initially treat combatants captured in Afghanistan as prisoners of war. This is the view of other realists in the Pentagon and administration, some US allies, and the vast majority of international law and human rights groups.

But the question goes far beyond the treatment of individual detainees. Rather, it sets the stage for how, in a violent world, the rules of war are established for everyone. For almost 100 years, the Geneva and Hague Conventions have provided a framework that protects combatants. The United States has always argued for a broad reading of these conventions regarding POWs, both to set an example and to ensure fair treatment of its own soldiers when captured.

Regarding the detainees at the American naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, the US is currently violating its own Army regulations as well as the Geneva Convention, namely in the way the prisoners are housed (in open-air cages with roofs).

US Army rules reflect the convention and require that all persons taken into custody by US forces during a conflict be treated as prisoners of war, “until some other status is determined by a competent tribunal.” This means that all combatants – Taliban, Al Qaeda, and others – captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan must be treated at first as POWs until their status can be decided by a competent tribunal.

These fighters won’t necessarily receive POW status. Some people have argued that Al Qaeda fighters may not qualify as POWs if they did not wear distinctive marks identifying them or obey the laws of war; others have argued similarly about the Taliban. But the facts are not established, which is why US Army regulations require a “competent tribunal” to judge each individual case fairly.

We must also remember that POW status hardly protects captured fighters from prosecution: POWs can be charged with war crimes.

They can also be interrogated, cajoled, and questioned – they just cannot be coerced or tortured. The Geneva Convention does allow POWs to limit their responses to name, rank, and serial number. Yet over the years many POWs, questioned under the framework of the convention, have provided much more information.

Finally, treating prisoners initially as POWs does not mean the United States abandons security concerns. Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war may not be abused, starved, left out in the elements, or with their wounds untreated. But they are subject to measures that keep them securely captive, under lock and key.

The reasons for complying with Army regulations and the Geneva Convention are clear: The US has an immediate and long-term interest in upholding international conventions that establish universal rules of war and regulate the treatment of POWS.

Even as Washington politicians bluster, our own soldiers live with the threat of capture. They, like all other combatants, deserve the protection of the Geneva Convention.

The United States also has an interest in not alienating its battlefield allies by high-handed, unilateral decisionmaking and selective compliance with the law. If the rules of war can be abrogated at any moment on the whim of the secretary of Defense – even over the objections of the secretary of State – our ability to form solid and lasting alliances will be gravely undercut.

Michael Ratner is an international human rights lawyer and vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He has brought numerous suits against the illegal use of military force by the United States Government and specializes in opposing government spying. Mr. Ratner teaches International Human Rights Litigation at Columbia Law School, and is the author of The Pinochet Papers, International Human Rights Litigation in US Courts, and Che Guevara and the FBI.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail