- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday stepped into the Iraqi conflict to shield all prisoners of war under Geneva Convention rules.
"We contacted both sides to (a) talk about the problems inherent from exposure to public curiosity by the televised films, and (b) asked access to prisoners of war detained on each side," ICRC spokesman Kim Gordon-Bates told The Washington Times from Geneva while standby teams awaited first access to captured Americans.
The 143 articles of the Geneva Convention on prisoners amount to a constitution that governs captor and captive alike with items ranging from banning murder, torture and human experimentation to specifying separate treatment for officers and women, and discipline for POWs who won't identify themselves.
The overall treaty is far more complex than the "name, rank and serial number" mantra prescribed by Article 17, which also requires that captives supply a birthdate.
"The basic rule is 'no touch.' You can't mistreat your prisoners of war. It doesn't matter who started the war. The righteous guy is obliged to follow the same rules as the bad guy," said Ruth Wedgwood, an international-law professor at Johns Hopkins University.
The ICRC, which drafted the original treaties, is the fact-finding arm of the Geneva Convention that tries to protect military prisoners of war, civilians caught in war zones, and wounded or sick service members. The August 1949 treaties, whose signatories include the United States and Iraq, took effect Oct. 21, 1950, after the Nuremberg trials in Germany.
They left enforcement to offenders' own governments or to any of 189 other nations where a war criminal might hide. And cases involving "grave breaches" require all 190 signatory nations to search out and try war criminals, or turn them over to another nation.
"Not all violations of the law of war, indeed not all violations of the Geneva Convention, are grave breaches. Parading a GI, although it's a violation, I don't think it counts as a grave breach," said Mrs. Wedgwood, who also was interviewed from Geneva.
"Grave breaches" are defined in Article 130, near the end of the 20,000-word "Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners." They include intentional killing, torture, or inhumane treatment including biological experimentation, compelling POWs to serve in the captor's military, or depriving them of a "fair and regular trial."
Top U.S. officials protested televised images of POWs, but others said families find comfort in knowing loved ones survived. They included relatives and a specialist on the topic who is himself a former POW.
"If a person has his chance to get his face on TV or at a microphone, he'll do it just to let his family know he's alive. And it makes the captor accountable for him," said Claude Watkins of Reston. Mr. Watkins is national membership chairman of American Ex-Prisoners of War, and a former consultant and trainer on POW behavior. The retired senior master sergeant spent 15 months in a German stalag.
Catholic University law professor Michael F. Noone agreed that photographing POWs is not an automatic violation.
"The treaty was intended to protect captured people from being humiliated and paraded through the street as war trophies," Mr. Noone said. "You can sympathize with families seeing their loved ones on television, but you can just say, 'You're lucky they're alive.'"
Ronald D. Young, 56, a Vietnam veteran in Lithia Springs, Ga., said his spirits were lifted by seeing video of his son, Ron Jr., 26, one of two chief warrant officers captured Sunday when their Apache helicopter was downed.
"At least I know he's alive," Mr. Young said after seeing TV scenes showing his son silent without obvious injury.
Article 13 says, "Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."
On Monday, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf responded directly to criticisms on the point by President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"We said we would adhere to the Geneva Convention and really we are adhering to that," Mr. Sahhaf told reporters in Baghdad.
The American side says it will adhere to the Geneva Convention standards under its own military procedures without international prompting. Mr. Noone said he knows of no tribunal that ever prosecuted an American soldier specifically under the Geneva Convention.
"Typically, our government prosecutes those cases as simple crimes like rape and murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I believe prosecutions by Rwanda and Bosnia tribunals applied general humanitarian law," he said.
The draft U.S. plan for military commissions said U.S. tribunals have jurisdiction over crimes against "protected persons" or property covered by the Geneva Convention, including intentional killings outside of combat.
The four conventions replaced a series of agreements on the laws of war dating from the 19th century and formalized in the 1929 Geneva Convention. Under their authority, an ICRC delegate who sees disturbing violations at a jail, checkpoint, hospital, or other facility reports it to Red Cross analysts who advise the victim what to do.
"If we do anything, would it put the person more at risk? We don't want to complain about something and find out the person involved is dead the next day," Mr. Gordon-Bates said. "Each country is responsible for its own miscreants."

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