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Saturday, November 29, 2003

Is the US Violating the Geneva Conventions?

While many analysts ask this question in respect of the prisoners at Guantanamo, I'm following Billmon's lead and asking this in terms of US practices in Iraq.

The AP reported Wednesday that the US had arrested the family of one of Saddam's Deputies. Apparently, the US has previously held the families of Iraqi scientists as well.

In a nutshell, these arrested people are hostages. As the AP story indicates:
The detention of the relatives of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a lifelong Saddam associate who is No. 6 on the list of most-wanted Iraqis, was an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender or gather intelligence that might lead to him.

[Lt. Colonel] MacDonald gave no details on why the wife and daughter were seized, but American forces have frequently arrested relatives of fugitives to interrogate them on their family member's whereabouts and as a way of putting pressure on the wanted men to surrender.

The media director of the Amnesty International USA, Alistair Hodgett, questioned the tactic, saying if the women were arrested to pressure al-Douri to turn himself in, they were being used as "bargaining chips."

"At a minimum, the U.S. should clarify on what legal basis (they) ... have been detained. If the purpose of their arrest is to exert pressure on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and force his surrender, then it is cause for grave concern," Hodgett said in a statement
Billmon points out that this is a pretty blatant violation of the Geneva Convention:
Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons...

Taking of hostages
In Billmon's comments, someone else has quoted the part of the Geneva conventions that makes the same activity illegal for occupying powers, which is the official international status of the US in Iraq.

My readers might also recall the recent bulldozing of family residences in Iraq, which is also apparently illegal -- and the State Department has criticized it when Israel has done it.

It's awfully difficult for the US to argue in behalf of the rule of law and against the targeting of civilians by terrorists if its activity isn't a hell of a lot different.

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