The May 20 editorial "A Corrupted Culture" said, "In the chaos of Iraq, there was no firm policy; for U.S. soldiers on the ground, there was 'an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries,' as [White House counsel Alberto R.] Gonzales foresaw." This justifies nothing. Article 5, Part I of the Third Geneva Convention makes clear how any "uncertainty in the status of adversaries" must be resolved: "Should any doubt arise as to whether persons . . . belong to any of the [protected] categories . . . such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

Since this country signed the Geneva Accords, they are "the supreme Law of the land" (Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution). Any conduct defined as a "grave breach" of the Geneva Accords is a felony under the War Crimes Act (Section 2441, 18 U.S.C). The War Crimes Act applies to those who are a "member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States." Thus, it applies to President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and their subordinates.




Congratulations to Jim Hoagland for advocating a debate on the Geneva Conventions and their inadequacies in fighting the war against terrorism [op-ed, May 26].

The conventions were drawn up after World War II with uniformed armies in mind. The unconventional guerrilla warfare of the Viet Cong revealed their failings. With Vietnam in mind, the United States and more than 100 countries negotiated revisions to the conventions known as the 1977 Geneva Protocols. A chief aim of these protocols was to try to bring nonuniformed combatants into the ambit of the law of war so these combatants would abide by its most fundamental rule: Don't attack civilians; attack only the enemy's military people and things. More concretely, the Pentagon is a legitimate target; the World Trade Center is not.

Further, the protocols prohibit the use of civilian vehicles or transports, such as commercial airliners, to carry out attacks, regardless of the target.

In 1987, in a letter to the Senate, President Reagan rejected the protocols on the grounds they went too far in relaxing the requirement that combatants distinguish themselves from the civilian population. No senator questioned the president's decision. Mr. Reagan acted on the advice of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was persuaded to recommend rejection of the protocols by Douglas Feith, who was deputy assistant defense secretary for negotiations policy. Mr. Feith is now undersecretary of defense for policy and is the chief adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on the law of war and its application to the war on terror.

At least 140 nations have ratified the protocols, including our most important ally in the war on terror, Britain. A public, top-to-bottom review of the protocols, with the full participation of the Senate, is overdue.