The Geneva Conventions were signed in 1949 and remain the most popular regulations concerning the laws of war. There are four conventions: Convention I addresses the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers in the field of battle; Convention II includes the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers at sea; Convention III regulates the treatment of Prisoners of War; Convention IV concerns the treatment of citizens in times of war.
The Convention under debate is the third Convention, specifically Article 3, which establishes the guidelines for POW treatment, stating they should be treated "humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria." It then defines behavior against POWs
that is prohibited, the most relevant to the current situation being "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular murders of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture."
It doesn't take a Congressional Commission to determine that the photos at Abu Ghraib detail examples of "outrages upon personal dignity" and therefore a violation of the Geneva Convention. No one (except Rush Limbaugh, who refers to it as "good old American pornography') is arguing that the treatment of the prisoners is cruel and humiliating. The point of contention is whether these prisoners — and any prisoners in the war on terror — deserve the status of POW.
Rush Limbaugh and like-minded individuals say they do not because, according to Article 4 of the third Convention, a POW is defined in part as " having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance . . . of carrying arms openly . . . of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war."
Clearly, Al-Queda and other terrorists do not conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. A suicide bomber does not openly carry arms. A hijacker of a plane does not wear a uniform identifying him as such. Furthermore, the Geneva Conventions, like most treaties, structure legal relationships between Nation States, not between Nation States and private interest groups and non-state actors, such as Al-Queda.
So, case closed. Perhaps Al Gore should stop harping on Bush for dishonoring the Geneva Conventions, because, according to these same conventions, the terrorists do not qualify for POW status. Except things are never so simple. The Geneva Conventions are long and complicated, and while Article 3 and 4 are the most discussed, there are over 100 articles in the third Convention alone, all of which discuss the status and treatment of a POW. In fact, one needs to look no further than Article 5 to see that the definition of a POW is not as clear-cut as Mr. Limbaugh would have us believe:
Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.