Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2004 / 9 Kislev 5765

Dan Abrams

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Geneva did not envision urban warfare with terrorists | Is it time for the U.S. to admit that the Geneva Conventions cannot and should not apply in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and when it comes to international terrorists? It may sound like humanitarian heresy to the longstanding agreement that have ensured humane treatment of prisoners for almost 150 years.

Yes, these agreements are designed to protect our own young men and women. So, why should we even consider ignoring agreements signed by just about every nation in the world? Well, I'm not talking about ignoring it. Those agreements were designed to apply to NATIONS at war. In Iraq, we're battling tribes, terrorists, and sects — not a nation. The official Iraqi and Afghan governments are long gone. These new enemies will never treat prisoners humanely because of an agreement, nor will they be held accountable for violations of it.

The administration publicly claimed that the convention still applies to the conflict in Iraq, even though secret administration legal opinions offering exceptions have been leaked. These administration lawyers are right to suggest there are exceptions (at the least). We already call the detainees at Guantanamo Bay "enemy combatants" instead of "prisoners of war" protected by Geneva, a distinction I support even though I think it's essential that combatants get fair and full hearings.

How do you apply the concept of prisoners of war to suicidal fighters who have no clear superiors to accept responsibility for any actions of their "soldiers?" If we battle a nation, the convention should apply. When we're fighting the Iraqi army and imprisoning its soldiers, we should have abided by the convention's mandates. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was more than a Geneva violation. It was an outrage.

But when the enemy is just individuals united by one cause — hatred of the U.S. — doesn't that put us at a distinct disadvantage to obey the rules of armed conflict, when they won't? Our tactics are scrutinized and criticized by the world, while their beheadings and mutilations are hardly even worth commenting on because everyone knows they don't care about how inhumane they are.

Rather than quibble with the international community about definitions and standards, maybe it's time to just be straight and say Geneva did not envision this type of warfare, period.

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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors “The Abrams Report,” Monday through Friday from 9-10 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today” and “Dateline NBC.” To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.



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