Geneva Conventions: More Bush PR

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WASHINGTON—Yesterday’s embrace of the Geneva Conventions by the Pentagon isn’t likely to change much of anything. But it can mean plenty of trouble for top Bush officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had conveniently gone to Iraq to be with the troops.

That’s because the Pentagon brass have speculated among themselves that adherence to Geneva could end up exposing top administration officials to war crimes charges.

There are a number of loopholes in the Pentagon announcement, which render it more of a PR exercise than anything else. “I’m really chuckling away reading all these headlines about how the adminstration’s done an about face, an 180 degree turn, to which I say I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Scott Horton, professor of international law at Columbia University and an expert on human rights issues. A few loopholes:

*Even if the CIA is brought in under this ruling, it is unlikely the Agency will be prevented from sending prisoners to jails in other countries. The government can argue the US has no control over what happens to such prisoners.

*While the Supreme Court’s decision symbolically gave all prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay the rights afforded to them by the Geneva Convention, it also leaves an opening for Congress to introduce new legislation and essentially reinstate the military tribunals that were just deemed unconstitutional. As the Washington Times reports, “Now it is up to Congress to create a judicial system that meets Geneva’s requirement for a regularly constituted court system, but does not, in the Pentagon’s view, give detainees all the rights afforded a criminal defendant in the U.S.”

*According to White House Spokesman Tony Snow, about 100 of the 450 prisoners being held at Gitmo will now be able to return to their homelands, but there’s a catch: many of these inmates, particularly those from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, are enemies of their own governments and would undoubtedly be re-imprisoned or killed as soon as they set foot on their native soil. Our government might then be obligated to grant these “terrorists” political asylum in U.S.

Such a directive has apparently been under consideration for some time, but has met resistance at high levels of the Pentagon — particularly by undersecretary of defense for intelligence Stephen Cambone and the Defense Department’s general counsel William Haynes, who rejected the idea of establishing an official DOD policy to ensure that detainees were treated in accordance with Common Article Three. As described in an article by the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer, though “military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground” during a Pentagon meeting held last year, Haynes and Cambone “argued that the articulated standard would limit America’s ‘flexibility.’ It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal.”

The staff of Mother Jones’ Washington bureau

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