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When the actions of a few shame us all

Of late, many instances of unbecoming conduct have been surfacing of a few soldiers acting out against Iraqis (POWs and civilians) in deplorable ways. It began with what was seemingly an ill-advised attempt at humor when a soldier posed with 2 Iraqi children holding a sign that suggests he killed their dad and ‘knocked up’ their mother (more info on this found at Snopes). It continued with this video of how a few soldiers decided the crime of stolen wooden planks should be dealt with.

Now it seems to conclude with recent reports of actions deliberately contrary to the Geneva Convention- which, despite these acts, the United States is actually a part of and bound to.

Under Article 89 of the Geneva Convention, the following 'disciplinary sanctions' for Prisoners of War are cited as in accordance with the agreement:

The disciplinary punishments applicable to prisoners of war are the following:

1. A fine which shall not exceed 50 per cent of the advances of pay and working pay which the prisoner of war would otherwise receive under the provisions of Articles 60 and 62 during a period of not more than thirty days.

2. Discontinuance of privileges granted over and above the treatment provided for by the present Convention.

3. Fatigue duties not exceeding two hours daily.

4. Confinement.

The punishment referred to under (3) shall not be applied to officers.

In no case shall disciplinary punishments be inhuman, brutal or dangerous to the health of prisoners of war.

As well, Article 3 is particularly of note as it relates to those who voluntarily surrender. A little snippet of how 'outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment' are to be prohibited at all times tends to jump out at the reader.

Yet despite these rules of engagement, a basic meltdown of military discipline led to the following charges:

According to sealed charging papers that were provided to The Washington Post, soldiers forced prisoners to lie in "a pyramid of naked detainees" and jumped on their prone bodies, while other detainees were ordered to strip and perform or simulate sex acts. In one case, a hooded man allegedly was made to stand on a box of MREs, or meals ready to eat, and told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off. In another example, the papers allege, a soldier unzipped a body bag and took snapshots of a detainee's frozen corpse inside.

In a good move (although perhaps one that could have been made before these actions were emblazoned on televisions in the States and the Arab world, as the allegations were known to him since March), President Bush denounced these findings, promising that those found guilty would be 'taken care of'. He also went on to say that these handful of soldiers do not represent the whole- which I believe to be true. Sadly, it won't be the offending soldiers that will suffer, but those ones who are true and on the ground trying to keep Iraq in check as it is.

It will be very important in the next few months that these soldiers be brought to justice, and that the outcome of the investigations be made known. In an already precarious situation, the treatment of these prisoners will do nothing to engender love towards the American presence in Iraq, and much to unify any of those on the fence against us. This, in turn, will fuel frustrations of already battle-weary units, and if the parents of those prison guards are to be believed, more situations where human rights are secondary to arbitrary punishments.

The U.S. must follow through on these promises of prosecution- and visibly.

Posted by tamsen at April 30, 2004 9:46 PM