the Geneva Convention
Geneva Conventions, drawn up in 1949, and ratified
by most countries, specifically and dogmatically direct the
identification, housing and treatment of people caught up
The Article 2 of the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners
of warnotes that:
In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented
in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases
of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise
between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even
if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.
it maybe seen that:
Prisoners of war MUST be:
Prisoners of war must NOT be:
- Treated humanely with respect for their persons and
- Enabled to inform their next of kin and the Central
Prisoners of War Agency (ICRC, the International Red Cross)
of their capture.
- Allowed to correspond regularly with relatives and
to receive relief parcels.
- Allowed to keep their clothes, feeding utensils and
- Supplied with adequate food and clothing.
- Provided with quarters not inferior to those of their
- Given the medical care their state of health demands.
- Paid for any work they do.
- Repatriated if certified seriously ill or wounded,
(but they must not resume active military duties afterwards).
- Quickly released and repatriated when hostilities cease.
- Compelled to give any information other than their
name, age, rank and service number.
- Deprived of money or valuables without a receipt (and
these must be returned at the time of release).
- Given individual privileges other than for reasons
of health, sex, age, military rank or professional qualifications.
- Held in close confinement except for breaches of the
law, although their liberty can be restricted for security
- Compelled to do military work, nor work which is dangerous,
unhealthy or degrading.
Full text may be found here.
In this CBC News Online article
John Bowman discusses the third Geneva convention, noting:
The United Nations' human rights chief Mary Robinson says
captured Afghan fighters should be considered prisoners of
war, as defined in the Geneva Conventions. U.S. Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld and other American military officials call
them "detainees" or "unlawful combatants."
in the Christian Science Monitor notes:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that
"we do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner
that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions,
to the extent that they are appropriate."
But he was careful to refer to the prisoners as "unlawful
combatants" or "battlefield detainees," not prisoners of war.
That description severely reduces the rights that the men
would have as POWs under the Geneva Conventions, and prompted
a rebuttal from the International Red Cross.
"We say they should be presumed to be POWs, and it is
not up to the ICRC or to the US military authorities to decide,
but up to the courts," said Michael Kleiner, an ICRC spokesman.
What they are hanging their hats on is article 4a, which
says in part :
Art 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present
Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following
categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict,
as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming
part of such armed forces.
(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer
corps, including those of organized resistance movements,
belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside
their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided
that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized
resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:
(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for
(b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable
at a distance;
(c) that of carrying arms openly;
(d) that of conducting their operations in accordance
with the laws and customs of war.
What they seem to have forgotten is:
(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the
approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist
the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves
into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly
and respect the laws and customs of war.
This, I feel, more correctly describes the condition of the
typical Afghan fighter. Whether they respect the laws and
customs of war is, I suppose, open to some debate, but considerably
less debate as to whether or not they are prisoners of war.
Magazine article notes that:
...as Amnesty International has pointed out, under the
Geneva Convention the Pentagon has no business making such
a determination. Those who fall into the enemy's hands are
entitled to POW status until a "competent tribunal" has determined
their status. In the case of those in Cuba, that hasn't happened.
There is controversy
as to the United States' legal position. Marjorie Cohn, an
associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San
The United States has gone to the Security Council twice
since the September 11 attack. The Security Council passed two
resolutions, neither of which authorize the use of force. Resolutions
1368 and 1373 condemn the September 11 attacks, and order the
freezing of assets; the criminalizing of terrorist activity;
the prevention of the commission of and support for terrorist
attacks; the taking of necessary steps to prevent the commission
of terrorist activity, including the sharing of information;
and urging the ratification and enforcement of the international
conventions against terrorism (which the U.S. has not ratified).
Although the United States has reported its bombing to
the Security Council as required by article 51 of the U.N.
Charter, the Security Council has not authorized and could
not authorize the use of unilateral military force by the
United States and the United Kingdom, or NATO, which is not
a U.N. body.
The bombing of Afghanistan is not legitimate self-defense
under article 51 of the Charter because: 1) the attacks in
New York and Washington D.C. were criminal attacks, not "armed
attacks" by another state, and 2) there was not an imminent
threat of an armed attack on the U.S. after September 11,
or the U.S. would not have waited three weeks before initiating
its bombing campaign. The necessity for self-defense must
be "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and
no moment for deliberation." (Caroline Case, 29 BFSP 1137-8;
30 BFSP 19-6 (1837)). This classic principle of self-defense
in international law has been affirmed by the Nuremberg Tribunal
and the U.N. General Assembly.
Even if the U.S. was authorized on September 11 to use
military force under article 51, that license ended once the
Security Council became "seized" of the matter, which indeed
it did on September 12, by passing Resolution 1368, and reaffirming
in Resolution 1373 on September 28 that it "remains seized"
of the matter. By bombing Afghanistan, the United States and
the United Kingdom are committing acts of aggression, which
is prohibited by the U.N. Charter.
The United States has certainly believed in the Third Geneva
the past. The Senate passed a bill "A concurrent resolution
condemning Iraq's treatment of U.S. and other prisoners of
war", on January 24, 1991, 1:08 p.m., specifically mentioning
that "the United States and Iraq are signatories to the Third
Geneva Convention (1949)".
The Geneva Conventions were originally drawn up under the
auspices of the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose mission statement says:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is
an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively
humantarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of
victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with
assistance. It directs and coordinates the international relief
activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict.
It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening
humanitarian law and univeral humanitarian principles.
In a statement
released January 18, 2002, Lucy Brown, an American Red
Cross advisor on Interational Humanitarian Law, stated:
It is part of the ICRC's responsibility and a legal mandate
under the Geneva Conventions to provide protection and assistance
to all prisoners of war and detainees held in war zones...The
ICRC is often the only one with access to these people and
the humanitarian service is widely supported by governments
because it protects their own captured people.
Now here's the clincher.
In the Statement
On The International Committee Of The Red Cross (ICRC) Delivered
By Ambassador David T. Johnson To The Permanent Council addressing
the Permanent Council of the OCSE
(Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) in
Vienna, he notes that:
Much of ICRC's work overlaps OSCE efforts to protect the
rights and freedoms of persons throughout the region, including
citizens and representatives of civil society. In addition,
the ICRC has protected the rights of thousands of persons in
the OSCE region, especially internally displaced persons, prisoners,
detainees and others deprived of their freedom, and civilian
victims in conflict. ICRC's principles of independence, neutrality,
and impartiality have helped it secure unique access, especially
when other organizations may not be allowed or granted access.
The United States especially supports ICRC visits to detained
persons and its work to ensure that the physical and mental
integrity of prisoners is respected and that prison conditions
are consistent with international standards.
In a Houston Chronicle article,
from the New York Times News Service:
Red Cross officials said on Wednesday that they had paid
two visits in Afghanistan to John Walker Lindh, the American
captured with the Taliban last week, and had taken a letter
from him to carry to his family.
Cross officials said the visits, somewhere inside the
country, were hindered by the presence of American soldiers,
who have Walker in custody. Red Cross officials said they
would seek to see Walker, whom they consider a prisoner
of war, without the soldiers present.
"We are still requesting a private interview," said Macarena
Aguilarof the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under
the Geneva Conventions of 1949, prisoners of war are entitled
to be visited by international monitors in a private setting.
In addition, the BBC
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary
Robinson and other commentators have argued that the armed
conflict in Afghanistan is of an international nature and
the law of international armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions,
A spokesman for the human rights group Amnesty International
has said the photographs showing inmates chained, blindfolded
and kneeling before their guards are reminiscent of torture
methods used in eastern Europe in the 1970s.
This violates Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention
- "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of
coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from
them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who
refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed
to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."
Reports indicate that they are provided with the necessities
of life and an opportunity to pray. However, the cells are
extremely small, basically a wire cage exposed to the elements.
This violates Article 21 of the Third Geneva Convention
- "...prisoners of war may not be held in close confinement".
They are not provided the opportunity to do their own cooking
nor are they provided with Arabic-style cooking. This violates
Article 26 of the Third Geneva Convention - "Account
shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners...Prisoners
of war shall, as far as possible, be associated with the preparation
of their meals; ...they shall be given the means of preparing,
themselves, the additional food in their possession. Adequate
premises shall be provided for messing."
Prisoners are provided with a bucket for a toilet. This violates
Article 29 of the Third Geneva Convention - "Prisoners
of war shall have for their use, day and night, conveniences
which conform to the rules of hygiene and are maintained in
a constant state of cleanliness."
Prisoners are provided with a 2" foam mattress and sleep
on the ground. I severly doubt that their captors are housed
in the same conditions. This violates Article 25 of
the Third Geneva Convention - "Prisoners of war shall be
quartered under conditions as favourable as those for the
forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same
area. The foregoing provisions shall apply in particular to
the dormitories of prisoners of war as regards both total
surface and minimum cubic space, and the general installations,
bedding and blankets. "
Their clothing and belongings have been confiscated, and
they are dressed in orange jumpsuits. This violates Article
18 of the Third Geneva Convention - "All effects and
articles of personal use, except arms, horses, military equipment
and military documents, shall remain in the possession of
prisoners of war, likewise their metal helmets and gas masks
and like articles issued for personal protection. Effects
and articles used for their clothing or feeding shall likewise
remain in their possession, even if such effects and articles
belong to their regulation military equipment."
Their beards have been shaven, in violation of fundamentalist
Islamic law. This violates Article 14 of the Third
Geneva Convention - "Prisoners of war are entitled in all
circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour".
It appears to be the intention of the United States to prosecute
the prisoners by an internal Military Tribunal. This is violates
Article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention -
When prisoners of war do not benefit or cease to benefit,
no matter for what reason, by the activities of a Protecting
Power or of an organization provided for in the first paragraph
above, the Detaining Power shall request a neutral State,
or such an organization, to undertake the functions performed
under the present Convention by a Protecting Power designated
by the Parties to a conflict.
If protection cannot be arranged accordingly, the Detaining
Power shall request or shall accept, subject to the provisions
of this Article, the offer of the services of a humanitarian
organization, such as the International Committee of the Red
Cross to assume the humanitarian functions performed by Protecting
Powers under the present Convention. "
I call upon the United Nations to either act in this capacity
or to propose a body, individual or group to provide this
'Protecting Power'. I also call upon the United Nations or
any interested party to prosecute the United States under
these and other sections of the Geneva Convention as provided
for under international law.