The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.I can think of no surer way to endanger lives of American citizens for decades to come.
Officials say the amendments would alter a U.S. law passed in the mid-1990s that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of international treaties governing military conduct in wartime. The conventions generally bar the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners without spelling out what all those terms mean.
The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking.
Left off the list would be what the Geneva Conventions refer to as "outrages upon [the] personal dignity" of a prisoner and deliberately humiliating acts -- such as the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women's underwear seen at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- that fall short of torture.
"People have gotten worried, thinking that it's quite likely they might be under a microscope," said a U.S. official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful U.S. behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off.
During the debate on torture in the US Sentate, I believe that McCain and others said that the standards we set for our prisoners will determine how American citizens are treated when they are abducted and imprisoned by our adversaries. It is a simple statement of natural law: folks will do unto you as you have done unto them. I can respect the idea that we ought not cut and run from Iraq, but not the notion that any moral or security interest of the United States is advanced by failure to punish those who abuse human dignity.
If there are in fact other nations which are "using accusations of unlawful U.S. behavior as a way to rein in American power," then it is merely a statement that those who have ordered the unlawful behavior have gravely damaged the security interests of the United States.
The idea that you should not engage in outrages against personal dignity, believe it or not, is rooted in the tradition of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.That we have to lecture Americans on these ideals, particularly those who wear the flag and bible on their sleeve, is an indication of the grave state of morality, yea the spiritual health of the prevalent denominations, in the United States today. Pray for us.
Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."110 A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.