The Public Square

Robert Naiman on Opposing Changes to the War Crimes Act


When creating the camp at Guantánamo for prisoners from Afghanistan, President Bush said he would follow the Geneva Conventions in handling the detainees.

But President Bush has not followed the Conventions and does not intend to do so, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the prisoners are entitled to those protections. Instead, President Bush wants Congress to change the War Crimes Act so that abuses of detainees that are now clearly illegal under U.S. and international law would now be legal.

Such abuses include the sexual humiliation of prisoners that surfaced in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Not only would these practices now be legal, but U.S. officials would be made exempt from prosecution for these offenses retroactively. Bush Administration officials apparently fear that if Democrats retake the House of Representatives in the November elections Congressional oversight will become more vigorous and thus they hope to get this change in the law through before November.

Recently President Bush announced that he wants Congress to approve military trials for detainees in which they will not be able to see the evidence against them and coerced testimony will be allowed as evidence. These changes in U.S. law would undermine our claim to be a country that respects human rights. Moreover, these changes would jeopardize U.S. soldiers and other Americans in foreign custody who depend on the reciprocal application of these international guarantees of humane treatment.

Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents that respect for basic human rights must not be sacrificed to a never-ending war on terror. Giving up our fundamental protections from abuse of government power will not make us safer. Please ask your Representative in Congress to oppose changes to the War Crimes Act and to oppose the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.