Flickr Photo by Bukowsky18
In March 2003, after Iraqi troops captured several U.S. soldiers and let them be interviewed on Iraqi TV, senior Bush administration officials expressed outrage over this violation of the Geneva Convention.
"If there is somebody captured," President George W. Bush told reporters on March 23, 2003, "I expect those people to be treated humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."
No one in the Bush administration, however, acknowledged the extent of their own violations of rules governing humane treatment of enemy combatants. Nor did the U.S. news media offer any context, ignoring the U.S. handling of Afghan War captives at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and the fact that the U.S. military also had paraded captured Iraqi soldiers before cameras.
During those heady days of “embedded” war correspondents reporting excitedly about Bush’s “shock and awe” invasion, what Americans got to see and hear was how the Iraqi violation of the Geneva Convention – the videotaped interviews – demonstrated the barbarity of the enemy and justified their punishment as war criminals.
Bush’s fury over the POW interviews echoed across Washington. “It is a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention to humiliate and abuse prisoners of war or to harm them in any way,” declared Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke on March 24.
That same day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the BBC, “The Geneva Convention is very clear on the rules for treating prisoners. They're not supposed to be tortured or abused, they're not supposed to be intimidated, they're not supposed to be made public displays of humiliation or insult, and we're going to be in a position to hold those Iraqi officials who are mistreating our prisoners accountable, and they've got to stop.”
On March 25, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added, “In recent days, the world has witnessed further evidence of their [Iraqi] brutality and their disregard for the laws of war. Their treatment of coalition POWs is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.” [For a contemporaneous story, see Consortiumnews.com’s “International Law a la Carte.”]
It would take months and years – as documents from Bush’s first term were gradually released to the public – to reveal the extent of the Bush administration’s hypocrisy.
For instance, it’s now known that the International Committee of the Red Cross began an investigation of U.S. war crimes in Iraq from the first days of the invasion, interviewing Iraqis captives from March to November 2003.
On Jan. 15, 2004, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger expressed his concern to Secretary of State Colin Powell about the Bush administration’s attitude regarding international law, specifically an op-ed by then-State Department legal adviser William Taft IV in the Financial Times four days earlier.
In that op-ed, Taft wrote that there was no law that required the U.S. to afford due process to foreigners captured in the “war on terror.”
"American treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is fully consistent with international law and with centuries-old norms for treating individuals captured in wartime," Taft wrote. “We are engaged in a war.”
It’s unclear what Kellenberger cited in Taft’s column, because the recently released minutes of the meeting were heavily redacted. But the conversation segued into Powell asking Kellenberger “where in addition to Afghanistan, did ICRC have problems with notification and access to detainees?”