My defence secretary, the man who is in charge of my nations's military policy, a Mr John Reid, thinks that that the Geneva Convention is a barrier to Western nations and the war against terror and thus, needs to be redrafted or scrapped. Brilliant! My government is really starting to sound like the Bush regime now, who refused to ratify Protocol I because of their belief in the mythical 'unlawful combatant' but more of that later...
John Reid's argument is that terrorists don't fight fair (he invents something called 'barbaric terrorism', which much be really bad terrorism in comparison to let's say, 'nasty terrorism' or 'naughty terrorism') so we need the powers to also not fight fair and no doubt bring about 'barbaric democracy'.
Laugh or cry? Can I suggest Mr Reid, that if we actually followed the Geneva Conventions when we engaged in war, we'd have less trouble with terrorists as our actions would not breed further resentment? Can I also suggest that the idea that we fight fair in the first place is frankly ludicrous? There is no need to list here all the violations of international law we've been party to but people in glasshouses made from dead Iraqi children shouldn't cast stones.
I must confess though, that I find the whole idea of war having rules to be good in theory but unworkable in practice, it's like asking murderers to behave in a decent manner as they kill. Don't get me wrong, I think the concept is a good one (the whole idea of the Geneva Conventions came from Henri Dunant after witnessing the horrors of the Battle of Solferino) and are clearly aimed at elavating ourselves as a race into the realm of the decent.
The Geneva Convention is an interesting document, it is actually four separate conventions backed up with three protocols and crucially, all signatory states are required to enact sufficient national law to make grave violations of the Geneva Conventions a punishable criminal offense. The first two conventions deal with the treatment of battlefield casualities on land and sea and led to the formation of the Red Cross, the fourth deals with the treatment of civilians in war. The third convention however, deals with the treatment of prisoners of war and came into force in 1950. Key regulations include:
* Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity
* 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
* Prisoners of war shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area
* The use of weapons against prisoners of war, especially against those who are escaping or attempting to escape, shall constitute an extreme measure, which shall always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances
* The Detaining Power shall grant all prisoners of war a monthly advance of pay
* Prisoners of war shall be allowed to receive...books, devotional articles, scientific equipment, examination papers, musical instruments, sports outfits and materials allowing prisoners of war to pursue their studies or their cultural activities
* In no case shall disciplinary punishments be inhuman, brutal or dangerous to the health of prisoners of war
Makes for interesting and inspiring reading doesn't it?
In order to get around the legislation so it could treat suspected terrorists in a subhuman way, the US, under Bush, invented something called the 'unlawful combatant', this is an unfortunate person who is accorded neither the rights a soldier would normally have under the laws of war, nor the civil rights a common criminal would normally have. I wouldn't want to be one of these would you?
Brilliantly, the Geneva Convention pre-empted this sneeky tactic and said that if there was any doubt about a persons status, it would have to be investigated by a competent tribunal and until such time they are to be treated as prisoners of war. If it decided this individual was an 'unlawful combatant' they still retain rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention so that they must be "treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial".
Clearly, the US and UK are in breach of this, so no wonder Reid wants the bounderies re-drawing. Now you may remember me mentioning that the US refused to ratify Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, along with Iraq and Afghanistan (I just love the company America keeps), this protocol concerns giving 'unlawful combatants' lawful status by deeming it unnesscary for a soldier to clearly mark herself/himself as such.
So not only do the US want the terrorists to fight fair they want them to clearly mark themselves out as such.