U.S. WILL GIVE DETAINEES AT GUANTANAMO AND ALL OVER
THE WORLD GENEVA RIGHTS
By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
July 11, 2006
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, called to account by Congress after
the Supreme Court blocked military tribunals, said Tuesday all detainees at Guantanamo
Bay and in U.S.
military custody everywhere are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.
White House spokesman Tony
Snow said the policy, outlined in a new Defense Department memo, reflects the recent 5-3 Supreme Court decision blocking military
tribunals set up by President Bush. That decision struck down the tribunals because they did not
obey international law and had not been authorized by Congress.
The policy, described in
a memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, appears to change the
administration's earlier insistence that the detainees are not prisoners of war and thus not subject to the Geneva protections.
The memo instructs recipients
to ensure that all Defense Department policies, practices and directives comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions governing
the humane treatment of prisoners.
"You will ensure that all
DOD personnel adhere to these standards," England
The memo was first reported
by the Financial Times, a British newspaper, and was later distributed to reporters at the Pentagon.
Word of the Bush administration's
new stance came as the Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings Tuesday on the politically charged issue of how detainees
should be tried.
"We're not going to give
the Department of Defense a blank check," Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee chairman, told the hearing.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat, said "kangaroo court procedures"
must be changed and any military commissions "should not be set up as a sham. They should be consistent with a high standard
of American justice, worth protecting."
The Senate is expected to
take up legislation addressing the legal rights of suspected terrorists after the August recess — timing that would
push the issue squarely into the election season.
Guantanamo has been a flash point for both U.S.
and international debate over the treatment of detainees without trial and over allegations of torture, denied by U.S. officials. Even U.S. allies in the war on terrorism have criticized the facility and process.
The camp came under worldwide
condemnation after it opened more than four years ago, when pictures showed prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded
into wire cages. It intensified with reports of heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.
Snow insisted that all U.S. detainees have been treated humanely. Still, he said,
"We want to get it right."
"It's not really a reversal
of policy," Snow asserted, calling the Supreme Court decision "complex."
Steven Bradbury, acting
assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told the Senate hearing that the Bush administration
would abide by the Supreme Court's ruling that a provision of the Geneva Conventions applies.
But he acknowledged that
the provision — which requires humane treatment of captured combatants and requires trials with judicial guarantees
"recognized as indispensable by civilized people" — is ambiguous and would be hard to interpret.
"The application of common
Article 3 will create a degree of uncertainty for those who fight to defend us from terrorist attack," Bradbury said.
Snow said efforts to spell
out more clearly the rights of detainees does not change the president's determination to work with Congress to enable the
administration to proceed with the military tribunals, or commissions. The goal is "to find a way to properly do this in a
way consistent with national security," Snow said.
Snow said that the instruction
manuals used by the Department of Defense already comply with the humane-treatment provisions of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
They are currently being updated to reflect legislation passed by Congress and sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to
more expressly rule out torture.
"The administration intends
to work with Congress," Snow said.
"We want to fulfill the
mandates of justice, making sure we find a way properly to try people who have been plucked off the battlefields who are not
combatants in the traditional sense," he said.
"The Supreme Court pretty
much said it's over to you guys (the administration and Congress) to figure out how to do this. And that is where this is
Under questioning from the
committee, Daniel Dell'Orto, principal deputy general counsel at the Pentagon, said he believes the current treatment of detainees
— as well as the existing tribunal process — already complies with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
"The memo that went out,
it doesn't indicate a shift in policy," he said. "It just announces the decision of the court."
"The military commission
set up does provide a right to counsel, a trained military defense counsel and the right to private counsel of the detainee's
choice," Dell'Orto said. "We see no reason to change that in legislation."