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11th September 2001
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FROM: http://argument.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/
story.jsp?story=390504

President Bush Is Right To Condemn Iraq's Treatment Of Captured Soldiers - But His Outrage Rings Hollow

25 March 2003

The international outcry over the display of American casualties and prisoners on Iraqi state television is thoroughly justified. This was not only a flagrant violation of the Geneva convention, which requires that prisoners of war "must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity"; it was also an offence against the very fundamentals of human decency.

As the Prime Minister rightly said, such treatment only demonstrates the true nature of the Iraqi regime. That condemnation has come not just from Britain and the United States, but from countries, such as Russia, that are taking no part in the military conflict and objected strongly to the use of force in the first place, only reinforces how universally unacceptable it is.

If Baghdad hoped to dispirit the US administration to the point where it called off its action and withdrew its troops, it has made a gross miscalculation. George Bush, and Tony Blair with him, have set their central aim as "regime change". This is not a humanitarian mission on the model of the ill-fated Somalia expedition; this is war. Now started, it will be waged to complete, and perhaps - alas - bloody victory. No one need harbour any illusions about that.

There is none the less a troubling aspect to President Bush's grim-faced denunciation of Iraq's behaviour. Speaking against the backdrop of the military helicopter in which he had just arrived at the White House, he said he expected US prisoners to be treated humanely, "just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely".

If not, he warned, "the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals".

[TVOTW Insert -
As an example - from the ABC News web site 15 June 2003
Iraqi prisoners handcuffed, lined up and
shot in the forehead, chest or in the back of the head.

Bush - 'Take No Prisoners' - Gestapo style.]

Now, there are no grounds at all for fearing that the several thousand Iraqis said to have been taken prisoner by US and British forces are being treated in anything other than exemplary fashion, in strict accordance with the letter and spirit of the Geneva Convention. We have not seen any of them paraded or questioned on television. None has been identifiable to viewers. We must hope that the American and the British forces continue to treat their prisoners correctly, however many of them there may ultimately be and however great the temptation to do otherwise.

For all his pledges that the US would treat Iraqi prisoners of war humanely, however, Mr Bush's words rang just a little hollow. The fact is that Iraqis are not the only foreign combatants in US custody. When the military operation against Iraq began, the US was already holding more than 600 foreign prisoners in camps in Guantanamo Bay, its base in Cuba. The vast majority were captured in or around Afghanistan during the operation to root out al-Qa'ida bases in that country in the aftermath of 11 September.

That operation, which ended Taliban rule and has brought a fractious peace to Afghanistan, enjoyed broad international support. The removal of hundreds of prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, however, and their subsequent treatment there, constitute one of the reasons why the Bush administration lost so much of the foreign sympathy that flowed to it after the attacks of 11 September. It also contributes to the international unease that made it so difficult for President Bush to build a truly broad coalition for the war on Saddam Hussein.

There were times, especially at the start, when the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay came very close to being paraded before television cameras.

They were shown in conditions that seemed designed to humiliate, confined to metal cages, led hooded and blindfolded to interrogation sessions that were not, and could not, be monitored.

The American authorities resisted all efforts by foreign governments and human rights organisations to have their "detainees", as they termed them, recognised as prisoners of war and so subject to the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

Fewer than a dozen of the Guantanamo prisoners have so far been released; none has been charged, and none has been allowed access to a lawyer. US officials insist that they are being treated humanely, but there is no international scrutiny.

Only two weeks ago, a US appeals court rejected a plea brought on their behalf that they should be brought into the US judicial process.

They are in a total legal limbo, in US detention but not recognised as being subject to US jurisdiction - which was the reason why the administration took them to Guantanamo at the start.

There were those, in the US and abroad, with the prescience to warn that America's refusal to recognise their detainees as PoWs could rebound in the event that US soldiers were taken prisoner in future. Even if the US authorities saw a difference between the "terrorist" suspects they had captured in Afghanistan and rank-and-file soldiers subject to military discipline, it was in the US interest - they argued - to recognise them as PoWs.

Rarely indeed does the decision of a political leader return so swiftly to haunt him. More often, it is the next and future leaders who must extricate themselves from such unintended consequences. Mr Bush's call for US prisoners to be treated humanely would command more credibility and wider sympathy if his administration had appeared more amenable to accepting rules that most other civilised countries accept.

This does not excuse the behaviour of the Iraqi regime, even one that is fighting for its survival.

But it should be a lesson to a President who has eschewed multilateral obligations - from the Kyoto treaty to the International Criminal Court - and ignored the UN to take his country to war.

FROM: http://argument.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/
story.jsp?story=390504

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