The world is watching
We must not weaken Geneva Conventions
Mon Sep 18, 2006 21:39

We must not weaken Geneva Conventions

Our view: The White House should heed warnings that diluting rules against inhumane treatment would harm the U.S.

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.18.2006

The White House is having a more difficult time than it anticipated in its quest to weaken provisions of the Geneva Conventions. A group of Senate Republicans on the Armed Services Committee — including Arizona's John McCain — is standing with Democrats against the Bush administration's plan on how far to go in interrogating and trying terrorism suspects.

The White House wants the Senate to give it legislative cover for techniques that could breach the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3, which prohibits the inhumane treatment of combatants captured during wartime.

Bush also wants to be able to use hearsay and evidence obtained by coercion, according to a New York Times story, in the trials of terror suspects. The White House wants to use classified information against terrorism suspects at trial without informing them of the evidence against them, which erodes the American principle of a fair trial.

The plan passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, a plan Bush vehemently opposes, does not treat terrorism suspects lightly. This is not a case of all or nothing, as the White House would like to spin it. Instead, the McCain-backed plan would make it more difficult to keep classified evidence from defendants, and reaffirms defendants' general right to respond to evidence against them.

Bush's desired legislation assumes far too much — that all evidence obtained through coercion is accurate and that every person suspected of terrorism is guilty.

What's more, the weakening of the Geneva Conventions' protections endangers U.S. personnel. The Conventions' prohibition against inhumane treatment is not just a guide on how to treat prisoners held by the United States; the rules also apply to how our own troops are treated should they be captured.

This is the argument made by the Senate group, which is being led by committee chairman Sen. John Warner of Virginia.
McCain, a member of the committee, is often a political speed bump in Bush's way and has all but declared his candidacy for president in 2008.

McCain's move could be interpreted as a shrewd attempt to distance himself — and the Republican Party — from Bush's low approval numbers in the long buildup to a campaign. But McCain also has the personal experience of having been a prisoner of war. As a POW during the Vietnam War, he understands the implications firsthand.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state in Bush's first term, is publicly opposed to the White House position. In a letter to McCain, he said, "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism" and warned that weakening the Geneva Conventions could endanger United States troops.

In a Friday news conference, Bush twisted the issue by implying that his critics were suggesting that the U.S. and Islamic terrorists were using the same tactics. But nobody had ever suggested that. It's an obfuscation of the real argument at a time when a substantive debate would have been more useful.

Any truly effective policy will take into account the long-range implications of weakening not only the Geneva Conventions' protections but the United States' commitment to human rights and decency. The country's standing in the eyes of our allies has already been lessened by the continued use of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

There are enough examples of this administration's lack of foresight — the invasion of Iraq without a realistic plan to win the peace, the squandering of global unity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — to know that this is not a time to ignore people recommending a different course of action. The stakes are too high.

The Senate should not allow the White House to push through its desired legislation as-is. It works against our goal of safety and would endanger American lives.

The hypocrisy of declaring oneself a moral authority and exalting lofty principles while simultaneously taking actions to legalize the violation of those principles never escapes the notice of friends and enemies alike.

The world is watching.

Frederick Bastiat's (1801 - 1850)

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