Terrorism, Security and Geneva

Written by JB Williams

©2006 USA


Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is under fire for allegedly sanctioning inhumane detention and interrogation policies concerning captured terrorists. This claim is based on a number of well publicized incidents and assumes that international terrorists are party to and covered by The Geneva Convention. It also assumes some ambiguous definitions of inhumane treatments…


Somewhere along the way, one concerned with such matters must consider the facts and make valued judgments on the basis of the evidence and facts as they exist. When discussing such a serious charge with severe penalties, one has a responsibility to know and act upon facts, not politically driven rhetoric aimed at undermining the war effort itself.


If it’s true that all Americans want proper national defense measures while enforcing and adhering to humane treatment of enemy captives, then we must begin with knowing what the Geneva Convention says, who it applies to (and doesn’t), be honest in the assessment of events and apply the same rules of engagement expected of ourselves, to enemy forces.


The Boston Globe writes Ex-general at Abu Ghraib says Rumsfeld OK'd abuse. A sensational headline to be sure, and the average reader would assume that this column is referring to the photos we’ve all seen, of US soldiers playing stack the naked terrorist. However, the body of the column states instead that US Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who ran the prison until early 2004, said she saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods.


Not the stack the naked terrorist methods I thought they were referring to based on their headline, but these methods, according to Karpinski, "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation . . . playing music at full volume . . . Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques." This is “news”? These are the inhumane methods we’re all worried about? You’ll find these same methods employed at every college party…


It had already been established that the few involved in sex-games at Abu Ghraib prison were acting on their own, outside of command and each has since been charged and convicted for their ill-conceived party games. Yet the press, along with political adversaries of the Bush administration, has continued to make dramatic headlines of non-stories and the average reader who scans only the headlines, is none the wiser. Even most who will take the time to read the content, don’t know what the Geneva Convention actually says or who it applies to, and will assume that these so-called inhumane methods authorized in writing by Rumsfeld, violate the law.


But before we lynch Rumsfeld, or allow Germany to, we need to know the facts and since the press won’t give them to you, I will…


Who does the Geneva Convention apply to?


The Geneva Convention (s) is a negotiated agreement between signer nations who have voluntarily agreed to abide by and therefore be protected by the terms of this agreement. Voluntary signer nations should expect to benefit from these protections, so long as they abide by these protections themselves. Non-signer nations have NOT agreed to abide by these terms and are therefore, not protected by these terms. It is that simple.


Combatants from signer nations are obligated under this agreement to meet certain conditions in order to be protected by this agreement. Specifically, protected combatants are defined as follows…


  • members of the armed forces of a party to an international conflict,
  • members of militias or volunteer corps including members of organized resistance movements as long as they have a well-defined chain of command,
  • are clearly distinguishable from the civilian population,
  • carry their arms openly, and obey the laws of war


Combatants do not have to meet one of these conditions in order to receive protection under the Geneva Convention (s), they must meet ALL of them. The Convention (s) goes on to state clearly, “However, other individuals, including civilians, who commit hostile acts and are captured do not have these protections.”


International terrorists do NOT meet any of the conditions stated in the Geneva Convention in order to gain protection as a known enemy combatant. They do NOT serve in any organized armed force serving any particular nation. They do NOT have any well-defined chain of command or control. They go out of their way to be indistinguishable from the civilian population and have gone so far as to disguise themselves as medical, police and press personnel. They do NOT carry arms openly or obey any set of laws. They distinguish between military and civilian targets only to the degree that they prefer attacking unarmed defenseless civilian targets as opposed to military targets. As such, they are NOT covered by the language or terms of the Geneva Convention (s).


Where’s the confusion?


As with any confusion concerning any law, the confusion comes through interpretation of the law. On June 29, 2006, The US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case. This decision is 185 pages long. The question of whether or not Hamdan was to be protected as a “prisoner of war” as defined by the Geneva Convention, required a 185 page answer. That alone should tell you something. The decision is typical of rulings by today’s Supreme Court. It is more of a non-decision than a decision, which is why it took 185 pages to explain its non-decision. Read it for yourself, linked above.


Why would we offer Geneva Convention protections to Terrorists?


To begin with, most of us wouldn’t. Most of those who would, have never read the Geneva Convention (s), and many others would demand humane treatment of even the most inhumane enemies under the heading of “do unto others”, as if playing nice will cause our enemies to play nice.


We are not talking about prisoners of war, serving a signer nations government under a distinct chain of command, obligated to abide by the same rules of engagement we are willing to abide by. We are talking about terrorists. People (to use the term loosely) who hide behind civilian women and children in a constant effort to attack unarmed civilian targets for purpose of creating terror in the hearts and minds of innocents in pursuit of tyrannical rule by the bloodiest of means.


They do not abide by any rules of engagement at all and won’t no matter how much we hamstring our own troops in their efforts to defend innocent civilians seeking peace and security.


Nobody sanctioned the sexual misconduct of a few at Abu Ghraib prison. Our detainees are not beheaded or dismembered - they are not dragged through the streets behind SUV’s or burned to death before cameras for perverted public consumption. But our soldiers and civilians are and that’s why we must not forget who are enemy is, what he is willing to do and what life will be like for all, if we fail to eliminate this particular enemy.


Today, innocent Iraqi citizens are dying, not at the hands of American or coalition forces, or at the hands of so-called “insurgents”, but rather at the hands of terrorists, referred to by many as simple “insurgents”. But many of these so-called “insurgents” are not from Iraq and do not have any stake in Iraq’s future. They have a deep seated opposition to and hatred for western democratic values. And if they were not attacking innocents in Iraq, they would be attacking innocents in many places around the globe, including America.


So before we afford these terrorists Geneva Convention protections or American civil rights, make it a point to know the facts and consider the consequences of that decision. Contrary to the rhetoric surrounding the subject, we are very much talking the life or death of thousands here. The stakes can’t get any higher…