The U.S. Often Flouts Geneva Treaties


TV images of downcast, frightened American soldiers have brought furious denunciations of the Iraqi military by U.S. leaders for violating the Geneva Conventions.

Unfortunately, the U.S. itself has often flouted international rules aimed at guaranteeing humanitarian treatment under the Geneva treaties and other agreements. Examples:

• The U.S. has designated captives in the “war on terror,” including Taliban members, as “unlawful combatants” or “enemy combatants”—not as prisoners of war. About 650 people, most of them in that category, remain in military detention at Guantánamo Bay, according to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

• The U.S., during the current “war on terror,” has ignored rules against holding people with-out charge or trial—specifically, the right to a hearing, as set forth in the Third Geneva Convention and elsewhere.

• The U.S. admitted to employing “stress and duress” tactics on prisoners at Baghram airbase in Afghanistan, thus violating standards of the Geneva Convention and the convention against torture.

• The U.S. has subjected Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment—degrading them by parading them in public, hooded and in shackles. The U.S. has condoned torture by surrogates in other countries.

Elsewhere, the U.S. violates other international standards:

• The U.S. used cluster bombs, notably in the former Yugoslavia, where one-quarter of the civilian deaths were due to the use of cluster bombs in areas where they became what activists called “indiscriminate weapons.”

• The U.S. opposes anything and everything that bans or restricts the death penalty.

• The U.S. refused to join the International Criminal Court and embarked on a fierce lobbying campaign against it. And it seeks exemption for U.S. nationals overseas should they fall under the court’s jurisdiction.

• The U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty and won’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which is aimed at slowing global warming.

• The U.S. won’t sign a treaty banning land mines. The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urged President Bush in December 2002 not to allow U.S. forces to deploy antipersonnel land mines in Iraq and to work toward U.S. accession to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. A group of 130 nations, including every member of NATO except the U.S., has embraced the treaty. The U.S. used a total of 117,634 land mines in the first Gulf War, including 27,967 antipersonnel mines. A total of 81 U.S. casualties were attributed to land mines.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John, Joanna Khenkine, and Mosi Secret