U.S. Extends Geneva Rights to Detainees

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; 8:09 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, bowing to court edict and political pressure, guaranteed the basic protections of the Geneva Conventions to captives in the war on terrorism and asked lawmakers Tuesday to restore the military tribunals now in limbo.

As senators took up the prickly question of how suspected terrorists should be treated and tried, the administration disclosed it had ordered a review of military detention practices to make sure they comply with Geneva standards.

The administration has refused to grant Geneva status to the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere, saying they were not from a recognized nation, were not captured in uniform and did not observe traditional rules of war.

Instead, the people apprehended in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other zones in the war on terrorism have been classified as "unlawful combatants." The Supreme Court last month invalidated the tribunals handling these cases, ruling they defied international law and had not been authorized by Congress.

The administration sought remedies on both fronts Tuesday, revisiting its prisoner guarantees and appealing to senators to revive the tribunals with legislation. Some critics have suggested the detainees should be tried by military courts-martial instead, an idea opposed by President Bush.

The Senate is unlikely to act until the fall, setting up a pitched debate over the issue at the height of the campaign for control of Congress.

A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England to all branches of the armed forces, released Tuesday, instructed them to ensure that all Defense Department policies, practices and directives comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions governing the humane treatment of prisoners.

The practical effect on interrogation techniques, detention conditions and trial procedures was unclear.

Officials at the White House and Pentagon did not say how, if at all, the treatment of terror detainees would be different under the Geneva Conventions. The government has long insisted that its treatment of these captives has been in compliance with the Geneva treaties all along, even though it has refused to apply them as a matter of law.

Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told a Senate hearing that Article 3 is ambiguous and its use "will create a degree of uncertainty for those who fight to defend us from terrorist attack."

Even so, he said, the Supreme Court imposed a standard "that we must now interpret and implement."

Article 3 prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," as well as torture and "cruel treatment." It requires sentences to be passed by a "regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

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