Wednesday, July 05, 2006

How Do You Define War Crimes?

In an interview with CNN's Tony Harris on Tuesday, US Major General William Caldwell refused to directly answer whether the alleged rape of a teenaged girl and her murder, along with that of 3 other family members, earlier this year were war crimes:

HARRIS: You're a soldier, you're also a human being. The allegations in the charging documents, if proven, do they constitute war crimes in your opinion?

CALDWELL: The charges as laid out in the charge sheet, those allegations that have been made are absolutely unacceptable. How you would define them, I would tell you that they are unacceptable behavior by anybody from any different organization, whether in the military or not in the military. It's not something that anybody in our civilization would condone, those kinds of allegations.

HARRIS: How about war crimes?

CALDWELL: I'm not sure how you'd want to define war crimes. I'll just tell you that those actions are absolutely unacceptable. And we are very transparent. We are very open, we are very thorough in investigating each and every one of these allegations.

We're looking at this one very closely, and if, in fact, we find the allegations have some substance behind them, they'll be taken to court and if found guilty will be appropriately charged.

It wasn't up to the CNN anchor to 'define war crimes'. War crimes are defined in very simple terms Geneva Conventions:

War crimes are againt the customary laws of war which are applicable in any conflict, regardless of whether the country in question is a signatory to the Geneva Convention. They include the rights listed in the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (Convention I, Article 3) and the basics of human rights law – freedom from torture, mutilation and rape, slavery, and willful killing. Customary law also forbids genocide, crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes.

They were also made into by the US War Crimes Act, which Alberto Gonzales referred to when he warned the Bush administration that not only soldiers but US officials could be charged under as well.

So, why is a US general so reluctant to identify the alleged crimes of these US soldiers as war crimes? It seems there is absolutely no room for ambiguity.

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