Published on Monday, September 25, 2006 by the International Herald Tribune / Paris
Do Unto Your Enemy
by Paul Rieckhoff
| Geneva Conventions I
In 2002, I attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. At "the Schoolhouse," every new U.S. Army infantry officer spent six months studying the basics of his craft, including the rules of war.
I remember a seasoned senior officer explaining the importance of the Geneva Conventions. He said, "When an enemy fighter knows he'll be treated well by United States forces if he is captured, he is more likely to give up."
A year later on the streets of Baghdad, I saw countless insurgents surrender when faced with the prospect of a hot meal, a pack of cigarettes and air-conditioning. America's moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It saved innumerable lives and deterred Iraqis from joining the insurgency.
But those days are over. America's moral standing has eroded, thanks to its flawed rationale for war and scandals like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. The last thing America can afford now is to leave Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation, as President George W. Bush proposed to do and can still do under the compromise bill that emerged last week.
Article 3 governs the treatment of prisoners of war, prohibiting "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." Blurring the lines on the letter of the article will only make U.S. troops' tough fight even tougher. It will undermine the power of all the Geneva Conventions, immediately endanger American troops captured by the enemy and create a powerful recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.
But the fight over Article 3 concerns not only Al Qaeda and the war in Iraq. It also affects future wars, because when America lowers the bar for the treatment of its prisoners, other countries feel justified in doing the same. Four years ago in Liberia, in an attempt to preserve his corrupt authority, President Charles Taylor adopted the Bush ad
Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is the author of "Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America From Baghdad to Washington."
© 2006 International Herald Tribune