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president bush to amend war crimes act August 12, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in politics.


While the media has been running a continous stream of fear-driven newscasting about the recently alleged terrorist threat in London, a law was being drafted in the United States that has slipped underneath the radar. Or at least an admendment to a previous law. The draft states that policymakers are retroactively protected from criminal charges for authorizing any humiliating or degrading treatment of prisoners. This, at least to me, is a pretty scary prospect. So who can be prosecuted for such acts? Certainly not Corporal Joe Bucktooth who received the order, nor his superior who had orders, nor his superior and so on. Of course, unless Corporal Bucktooth is atually Jack Bauer, who always gets the job done no matter what it takes. I mean, it must be okay to torture a couple innocent people as long as it eventually gets us to stopping a nuclear bomb, right?

Unfortunately, “24” is not real life and the government and their agencies cannot do whatever it takes. This does not matter whether you are suspected, alleged, or convicted of any crime. The War Crimes Act of 1996 during the Clinton administration is as follows:

Sec. 2401. War crimes

    `(a) OFFENSE- Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
    `(b) CIRCUMSTANCES- The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such breach or the victim of such breach is a member of the armed forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
    `(c) DEFINITIONS- As used in this section, the term `grave breach of the Geneva Conventions’ means conduct defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions relating to the laws of warfare signed at Geneva 12 August 1949 or any protocol to any such convention, to which the United States is a party.’.

Okay, so it doesn’t say much about what a “War Crime” is, does it? It only refers back to the Geneva Conventions, which are a set of four treaties concerning the standards for international humanitarian law. Now, I won’t get into them, but it is publicly known that the United States and United Kingdom have both had members of their respective armies violate these treaties on numerous occasions. What this admendment is doing is retroactively protecting Bush and his administration from any responsibility of these crimes. Now, whether you are a Bush supporter or not, this has to make you question the quality of a government that is responsible to the people, and hopefully the truth.

It appears that the draft is also making some minor changes to the Geneva Conventions. It leaves in outlawing torture and inhuman or cruel treatment but it drops prohibitions from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions against “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” The administration has also vaguely stated that the admendment “will apply to any conduct by any U.S. personnel, whether committed before or after the law is enacted.”

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, is deeply concerned as he believes the sole purpose of the admendment is to immunize past crimes by politicians and agencies such as the CIA. The law is not a blatant attempt to legalize cruel treatment, since as long as no one is to be held accountable, than there is no need to create an American version of the Reichstag Fire Decree.

The draft is in the revision stage but the administration plans on pushing the draft’s major points in Congress after Labour Day.

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