fate of detainees hangs on U.S. wording
January 17, 2002 8:38 AM   Subscribe

fate of detainees hangs on U.S. wording Articoe discusses why the U.S. refuses to call prisoners sent to Cuba POWs instead of detainees...what a difference a word makes.
posted by Postroad (6 comments total)
What this sounds like to me is that the U.S. is trying to weasel its way out of Geneva convention requirements through a technical loophole that was not anticipated when it was originally drafted. The intent of the Geneva convention was to ensure that combatants did not lose their human rights when captured. Granted, the U.S. could be much more aggressive in stripping rights from these prisoners by just lining them up against the wall and shooting them. But still, American jurisprudence is based on the principle that rights are not convenient points of procedure, but fundamental human rights that must be defended even if it makes prosecution more difficult. The right to appeal within the judicial branch is one of those basic rights.

Among other things, the military tribunals appear to be a violation of the separation of powers between the three branches of government. Replacing the Supreme Court with the chief executive is a very dangerous move.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:11 AM on January 17, 2002

I was under the impression that combatants were referred to as "POW"s if the behaved in the manner of "Soldiers." And that this was done to keep warfare "civil."

In other words, rules were established to keep a certain sense of order to fighting. Do you arm children and send them into battle? Well, that's not good warfare and you are no soldier.

Do you fight within certain guidelines or do you employ "suicide troops?" If you do, you're not a soldier. You're an unlawful combatant.

At least, that was what I understand the issue to be, not just arbitrary semantics.

But, maybe I am wrong. Any military historians out there?
posted by ColdChef at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2002

The Geneva Convention binds the signatories regardless of the conduct of their enemies. That's what being 'good' is all about; you aren't just 'good' to other 'good' people, you're 'good' to everybody.

But it's arguably a dead treaty anyway. The USA (and everybody else) has conducted war in breach of the Geneva Convention since just after its signing. Specifically: "Article 33 No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited." Any kind of bombing campaign or blockade directed against civilian populations, especially with the intent of exerting political pressure, breaches this provision.

posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:20 PM on January 17, 2002

I can think of at least one disasterous, civilian-targeted blockade, but when have we engaged in civilian-targeted bombing?
posted by skyline at 3:29 PM on January 17, 2002

The usual cites are Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, skyline. But aeschenkarnos is engaging in creative reading of the conventions, as do many people who want the "law of war" to be a means of "outlawing war". I appreciate the idealism of the sentiment, but since hardly any of the actual signatories have ever felt the conventions should be interpreted that way, it may be considered a dead letter as far as that interpretation goes. It's just not realistic when (for example) hitting a munitions plant is more important to the war effort than hitting the division supplied by it. It's much easier, quicker, and often more effective and humane to prosecute a war by starving an army of supplies, and alas, this often means that one must use fuzzier definitions of 'civilian' than idealists would prefer. Radio stations, factories, "command and control" centers. It's frustrating, because there's an undeniable sense in which this begins to superficially resemble terrorism.
posted by dhartung at 5:04 PM on January 17, 2002

Our Attourney General can suspend our civil rights because we are at war, but those who we capture aren't POWs? Doesn't seem that you can have that one both ways now does it?
posted by jonnyp at 9:18 PM on January 17, 2002

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