In his latest rip-roaring attack on the Bush administration, Al Gore basically called on everyone in the Pentagon's civilian leadership short of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr. to resign. Their list of offenses is myriad, according to Gore, including a charge rarely heard in political debate -- "the impending loss of intimacy with one's soul." Gore is judge, hangman and therapist, all in one.
The administration's gravest alleged misconduct is treating the Geneva Convention with contempt. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were "the natural consequence" of Bush policy, says Gore. He all but accuses President Bush of personally dressing Iraqi detainees in women's underwear. No respectable Bush critic would dare use Gore's inflammatory language -- he says Bush is running a "gulag," thus associating him with Josef Stalin -- but his essential charge on the Geneva Convention has been repeated even in more serious quarters. If Gore et al. want to scold the Bush administration for ignoring the Geneva Convention, the least they can do is properly understand its purpose and its provisions.
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales has been criticized for a 2002 legal memorandum in which he described parts of the Geneva Convention as "quaint." He was right. As law-of-war expert David Rivkin points out, the convention regarding treatment of prisoners was originally signed in 1949 with World War II in mind. Prisoners of war were assumed to be conscripts caught up in a war by no fault of their own, and therefore entitled not just to humane treatment, but to "Hogan's Heroes" treatment.
Under the Third Geneva Convention, POWs must be housed in "dormitories," and provided a "canteen," where they can buy "foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use." The canteen's profits must be available for the prisoners' use, and POW representatives must participate in the canteen's operation. "The practice of intellectual, educational, and recreational pursuits, sports and games amongst prisoners" must be encouraged.
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