Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When All Else Fails . . .

Winston Churchill's bon mot about Americans doing the right thing as a last resort may require a bit of modification under current circumstances. When all else fails, the Bush administration will do what the law requires--provided it can change the law first.

According to tomorrow's Washington Post, there are signs that the Bush administration is concerned that a legal reckoning may be looming.

The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.

Officials say the amendments would alter a U.S. law passed in the mid-1990s that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of international treaties governing military conduct in wartime. The conventions generally bar the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners without spelling out what all those terms mean.

The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking.

Left off the list would be what the Geneva Conventions refer to as "outrages upon [the] personal dignity" of a prisoner and deliberately humiliating acts--such as the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women's underwear seen at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq--that fall short of torture.

Outrageous, but not at all surprising.