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Geneva Convention!

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George Monbiot

Tuesday March 25, 2003

The Guardian

Suddenly, the government of the United States has discovered the virtues of

international law. It may be waging an illegal war against a sovereign state;

it may be seeking to destroy every treaty which impedes its attempts to run

the world, but when five of its captured soldiers were paraded in front of

the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence

secretary, immediately complained that "it is against the Geneva convention

to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for

them".

He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning

the treatment of prisoners, insists that they "must at all times be

protected... against insults and public curiosity". This may number among the

less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the

conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable. If you break them,

you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes.

This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic

convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department,

responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to

put him away for the rest of his natural life.

His prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where 641 men (nine of whom are

British citizens) are held, breaches no fewer than 15 articles of the third

convention. The US government broke the first of these (article 13) as soon

as the prisoners arrived, by displaying them, just as the Iraqis have done,

on television. In this case, however, they were not encouraged to address the

cameras. They were kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind their backs,

wearing blacked-out goggles and earphones. In breach of article 18, they had

been stripped of their own clothes and deprived of their possessions. They

were then interned in a penitentiary (against article 22), where they were

denied proper mess facilities (26), canteens (28), religious premises (34),

opportunities for physical exercise (38), access to the text of the

convention (41), freedom to write to their families (70 and 71) and parcels

of food and books (72).

They were not "released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of

active hostilities" (118), because, the US authorities say, their

interrogation might, one day, reveal interesting information about al-Qaida.

Article 17 rules that captives are obliged to give only their name, rank,

number and date of birth. No "coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war

to secure from them information of any kind whatever". In the hope of

breaking them, however, the authorities have confined them to solitary cells

and subjected them to what is now known as "torture lite": sleep deprivation

and constant exposure to bright light. Unsurprisingly, several of the

prisoners have sought to kill themselves, by smashing their heads against the

walls or trying to slash their wrists with plastic cutlery.

The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva

conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war", but "unlawful combatants".

The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding

the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country. But this redefinition is

itself a breach of article 4 of the third convention, under which people

detained as suspected members of a militia (the Taliban) or a volunteer corps

(al-Qaida) must be regarded as prisoners of war.

Even if there is doubt about how such people should be classified, article 5

insists that they "shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until

such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal". But

when, earlier this month, lawyers representing 16 of them demanded a court

hearing, the US court of appeals ruled that as Guantanamo Bay is not

sovereign US territory, the men have no constitutional rights. Many of these

prisoners appear to have been working in Afghanistan as teachers, engineers

or aid workers. If the US government either tried or released them, its

embarrassing lack of evidence would be brought to light.

You would hesitate to describe these prisoners as lucky, unless you knew what

had happened to some of the other men captured by the Americans and their

allies in Afghanistan. On November 21 2001, around 8,000 Taliban soldiers and

Pashtun civilians surrendered at Konduz to the Northern Alliance commander,

General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Many of them have never been seen again.

As Jamie Doran's film Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death records, some

hundreds, possibly thousands, of them were loaded into container lorries at

Qala-i-Zeini, near the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, on November 26 and 27. The

doors were sealed and the lorries were left to stand in the sun for several

days. At length, they departed for Sheberghan prison, 80 miles away. The

prisoners, many of whom were dying of thirst and asphyxiation, started

banging on the sides of the trucks. Dostum's men stopped the convoy and

machine-gunned the containers. When they arrived at Sheberghan, most of the

captives were dead.

The US special forces running the prison watched the bodies being unloaded.

They instructed Dostum's men to "get rid of them before satellite pictures

can be taken". Doran interviewed a Northern Alliance soldier guarding the

prison. "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck.

The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them."

Another soldier alleged: "They took the prisoners outside and beat them up,

and then returned them to the prison. But sometimes they were never returned,

and they disappeared."

Many of the survivors were loaded back in the containers with the corpses,

then driven to a place in the desert called Dasht-i-Leili. In the presence of

up to 40 US special forces, the living and the dead were dumped into ditches.

Anyone who moved was shot. The German newspaper Die Zeit investigated the

claims and concluded that: "No one doubted that the Americans had taken part.

Even at higher levels there are no doubts on this issue." The US group

Physicians for Human Rights visited the places identified by Doran's

witnesses and found they "all... contained human remains consistent with

their designation as possible grave sites".

It should not be necessary to point out that hospitality of this kind also

contravenes the third Geneva convention, which prohibits "violence to life

and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment

and torture", as well as extra-judicial execution. Donald Rumsfeld's

department, assisted by a pliant media, has done all it can to suppress Jamie

Doran's film, while General Dostum has begun to assassinate his witnesses.

It is not hard, therefore, to see why the US government fought first to

prevent the establishment of the international criminal court, and then to

ensure that its own citizens are not subject to its jurisdiction. The five

soldiers dragged in front of the cameras yesterday should thank their lucky

stars that they are prisoners not of the American forces fighting for

civilisation, but of the "barbaric and inhuman" Iraqis.

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March 28, 2003

Where Helen Thomas's heart lies

Shame, shame, shame on Helen Thomas.

The crusty ex-journalist-turned-White House heckler had only one thing on her mind when her favorite news stations, al Jazeera and Iraqi state TV, repeatedly broadcast those chilling pictures of scared American POWs and gleeful Iraqi soldiers hovering over dead American soldiers last weekend.

Thomas did not ask if the five Americans in captivity had been tortured or raped.

Thomas did not wonder whether the dead American soldiers had been wantonly executed in public by Saddam's thugs, who ambushed our men and women (yes, Helen, I said "our") in the city of Nasiriyah.

Thomas did not show the least bit of curiosity about the whereabouts of eight missing American soldiers caught in the attack.

And Thomas did not inquire about the well-being of any of the anguished families of these captured, missing and murdered American soldiers.

No, the question on Hellfire Helen Thomas's mind was:

What about the poor detainees at Guantanamo Bay?

At a March 24 White House briefing, Thomas smugly broached the topic of the America POWs with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in order to harp on her favorite subject (i.e., blaming America):

Thomas: In terms of the pictures, the administration is upset because it is a violation of the Geneva Accords, you say, and I guess it is.

Fleischer: That's correct.

Thomas: Are we following the Geneva Accords in Iraq and Guantanamo?

Fleischer: . . . (W)e have always treated people humanely, consistent with international agreements. In the case of the battle, the fight in Iraq, there's no question that is being done in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas: But how about the detainees in Guantanamo? They have no rights under the Geneva Accords?

Fleischer: As I just indicated, we always treat them humanely . . .

I admire Fleischer's super-human restraint in the face of this disgusting display of moral equivalence masquerading as journalism. Thomas sees pictures of dead American soldiers being molested by cackling Iraqi assassins, she sees video of dazed and wounded young American soldiers in captivity, and all she can do is harangue the Bush administration for not giving Guantanamo Bay terror detainees enough "rights"?

Let there be no doubt about where Helen Thomas's heart lies.

Since nothing the White House could say would convince her that the Guantanamo detainees are being treating humanely, maybe the testimony of freed detainees themselves will. It won't make a difference to hardened America-haters, of course, but let the truth be known:

Last weekend, 18 Afghans were released from detention in Cuba after 16 months of questioning in U.S. custody. They flew home and were held briefly in a Kabul jail. The Boston Globe reports that "nearly all of the former detainees enthusiastically praised the conditions at Guantanamo and expressed little bitterness about losing a year of their lives in captivity, saying they were treated better there than in three days in squalid cells in Kabul. None complained of torture during questioning or coerced confessions."

Sirajuddin, 24, a Kandahar taxi driver, said: ''The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day -- eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn't wash, they'd wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games.''

"There is no need to lie," Sayed Abasin, 21, told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm telling you the facts. They treated us very well." His record from Cuba shows he was seen 37 times by the Gitmo medical staff, for everything from knee pain to sinusitis.

The freed detainees said they were allowed to pray five times daily, exercise, and were given books written in Pashtu. Upon their release, as parting gifts, the Afghan men received new shirts, jeans, tennis shoes and gym bags (to carry their Korans).

Now, human-rights crusaders, let's head back to Iraq.

The American POWs have already been subjected to intense public humiliation. They will be lucky if all they suffer is sinusitis. Military and intelligence officials report that some of the U.S. soldiers who raised their hands in surrender at Nasiriyah received only one parting gift: a bullet hole through the head.

Were our fellow Americans allowed to say their final prayers before their execution?

Helen? Helen?

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Originally posted by igloo

March 28, 2003

Where Helen Thomas's heart lies

Shame, shame, shame on Helen Thomas.

The crusty ex-journalist-turned-White House heckler had only one thing on her mind when her favorite news stations, al Jazeera and Iraqi state TV, repeatedly broadcast those chilling pictures of scared American POWs and gleeful Iraqi soldiers hovering over dead American soldiers last weekend.

Thomas did not ask if the five Americans in captivity had been tortured or raped.

Thomas did not wonder whether the dead American soldiers had been wantonly executed in public by Saddam's thugs, who ambushed our men and women (yes, Helen, I said "our") in the city of Nasiriyah.

Thomas did not show the least bit of curiosity about the whereabouts of eight missing American soldiers caught in the attack.

And Thomas did not inquire about the well-being of any of the anguished families of these captured, missing and murdered American soldiers.

No, the question on Hellfire Helen Thomas's mind was:

What about the poor detainees at Guantanamo Bay?

At a March 24 White House briefing, Thomas smugly broached the topic of the America POWs with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in order to harp on her favorite subject (i.e., blaming America):

Thomas: In terms of the pictures, the administration is upset because it is a violation of the Geneva Accords, you say, and I guess it is.

Fleischer: That's correct.

Thomas: Are we following the Geneva Accords in Iraq and Guantanamo?

Fleischer: . . . (W)e have always treated people humanely, consistent with international agreements. In the case of the battle, the fight in Iraq, there's no question that is being done in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas: But how about the detainees in Guantanamo? They have no rights under the Geneva Accords?

Fleischer: As I just indicated, we always treat them humanely . . .

I admire Fleischer's super-human restraint in the face of this disgusting display of moral equivalence masquerading as journalism. Thomas sees pictures of dead American soldiers being molested by cackling Iraqi assassins, she sees video of dazed and wounded young American soldiers in captivity, and all she can do is harangue the Bush administration for not giving Guantanamo Bay terror detainees enough "rights"?

Let there be no doubt about where Helen Thomas's heart lies.

Since nothing the White House could say would convince her that the Guantanamo detainees are being treating humanely, maybe the testimony of freed detainees themselves will. It won't make a difference to hardened America-haters, of course, but let the truth be known:

Last weekend, 18 Afghans were released from detention in Cuba after 16 months of questioning in U.S. custody. They flew home and were held briefly in a Kabul jail. The Boston Globe reports that "nearly all of the former detainees enthusiastically praised the conditions at Guantanamo and expressed little bitterness about losing a year of their lives in captivity, saying they were treated better there than in three days in squalid cells in Kabul. None complained of torture during questioning or coerced confessions."

Sirajuddin, 24, a Kandahar taxi driver, said: ''The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day -- eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn't wash, they'd wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games.''

"There is no need to lie," Sayed Abasin, 21, told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm telling you the facts. They treated us very well." His record from Cuba shows he was seen 37 times by the Gitmo medical staff, for everything from knee pain to sinusitis.

The freed detainees said they were allowed to pray five times daily, exercise, and were given books written in Pashtu. Upon their release, as parting gifts, the Afghan men received new shirts, jeans, tennis shoes and gym bags (to carry their Korans).

Now, human-rights crusaders, let's head back to Iraq.

The American POWs have already been subjected to intense public humiliation. They will be lucky if all they suffer is sinusitis. Military and intelligence officials report that some of the U.S. soldiers who raised their hands in surrender at Nasiriyah received only one parting gift: a bullet hole through the head.

Were our fellow Americans allowed to say their final prayers before their execution?

Helen? Helen?

you Mean American's Don't Torture and rape people by GOv't decree? GET OUT !!

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