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July 13, 2006
Tribunals Out, Courts-Martial In: McCain

John McCain says the Bush administration has given up on military tribunals for captured terrorists and agreed to courts-martial instead, reversing course with Congress. The change would match the language of the Geneva Conventions for treatment of POWs, signalling a shift in detainee status as well:

Citing recent meetings with Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, and other top administration officials, McCain said the White House would not insist upon legislation authorizing military commissions established by the Pentagon.

"At that time, I was under the impression that that was the administration's position," McCain said. "I hope that hadn't changed."

Such a promise would contradict testimony heard earlier this week from administration officials, who told lawmakers that Congress should not turn to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice because it would grant terrorists too many freedoms and would be unpractical on the battlefield. In their testimony, officials representing the Defense and Justice Department advocated that Congress pass legislation authorizing the military commissions. ...

"We will have more wars and there will be Americans who will be taken captive. If we somehow carve out exceptions to treaties to which we are signatories, then it will make it very easy for enemies to do the same to American prisoners," he said.

Can we please dispense with the fallacy that the Geneva Convention has ever protected American POWs? We signed onto the original Geneva Convention in 1882 (after its establishment in 1864). While I'm not aware of gross violations against Americans in World War I, the Germans (1865) and Japanese (1886) committed them regularly during World War II. The Chinese (1906) and North Koreans treated American POWs abysmally in the Korean War. McCain himself is a testament to how the Vietnamese (1957) treated POWs in the Vietnam War. Saddam's Iraq (1956) abused American POWs in the Gulf War, and we have the case of Jessica Lynch and her unit comrades to remind us how he treated them in the three weeks he commanded the Iraqi forces in 2003.

Name me a war where our enemies abided by the GC.

That isn't an argument that we should not abide by the GC, of course; we signed the document, and we should honor our commitment. However, let's quit pretending that this will gain us anything in the way our enemies treat our men and women, once captured. Perhaps someone can explain that supposed benefit to the families of Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker.

If we want to use courts-martial instead of tribunals, fine; that's a decision that Congress and the White House have to make. Let's not pretend that this will make a bit of difference to any American soldier captured by our enemies.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 13, 2006 10:28 AM

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» Battered Bush Syndrome from Hard Starboard
I've commented previously that the Bush Administration undermined its own erstwhile legal argument for military tribunals by applying, in practice, Geneva Convention Common Article 3 to the terrorist captives at Gitmo and elsewhere. Since they have t... [Read More]

Tracked on July 14, 2006 12:53 AM


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