Friday, July 28, 2006

Retroactive Amnesty for US War Crimes?

The Washington Post reports that a 'nervous' Bush administration is trying to devise a way to exempt US soldiers from the 1996 US War Crimes Act. That's the pattern: break a law and then get congress to retroactively change it for you.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The legal trick to making this all go away? Just assert that the 'foreign' Geneva Conventions don't apply to Americans and redefine 'war crimes' to mean whatever you want them to. The Supreme Court doesn't appear to be all that helpful in this situation having said that foreign interpretations "should at least be considered by US courts".

Maybe the Republicans should have actually attended the hearings in 1996 (only two lawmakers actually did) when this law was being considered. It was supposed to set a standard for other countries to follow as well.

Who could have predicted a breach of the leveees Geneva Conventions?

Gonzales has been fretting about this for years, desperately trying to find some way to shield soldiers and officials from prosecution. The recent Hamdan decision has added to his anxiety smarminess.

Who else has been busy behind the scenes? Bush's favourite lawyers, David Addington and ('but she's not conservative enough!) Harriet Miers:

On July 7, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a memorandum ordering all military departments to certify that their actions in the fight with al-Qaeda comply with Article 3. Several officials said the memo, which was reviewed by military lawyers, was provoked by the renewed threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

England's memo was not sent to other agencies for review. Two White House officials heavily involved in past policymaking on detainee treatment matters, counsel Harriet Miers and Addington, told friends later that they had not been briefed before its release and were unhappy about its language, according to an informed source. Bradbury and Gonzales have since drafted legislation to repair what they consider the defects of the War Crimes Act and the ambiguities of Common Article 3.

Defects. Right.

Bushco opted out of the International Criminal Court early in Bush's first term in order to 'protect' US soldiers from the scrutiny of a foreign court and has tried every possible way to squeeze its way out of any responsibility or accountability for war crimes as outlined in the Geneva Conventions. Their unwillingness to comply with the most basic human rights laws has been absolutely appalling and now Republican lawmakers find themselves in a very uncomfortable position - having to amend war crimes laws that it approved ten years ago due to the actions of the military under Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush's guidance.

Or maybe they've so acquiesced to the neocons for the past six years that they'll just change that act without blinking an eye. It'll be interesting to see what John McCain has to say about this.

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