Violating the Geneva Convention



It seems as if the Bush Administration is quite upset and very much concerned over the Iraqis treatment of the recently captured American prisoners. The concern is quite understandable and, like every other patriotic American, I pray that these soldiers are unharmed and released as soon as possible. But if the last Gulf War is any indication of Iraq’s treatment of prisoners of war then our fears may somewhat be relieved. Of the 23 prisoners of war that the Iraqis captured all 23 were released and in relatively good health.

Nevertheless, President Bush was quick to blast the Iraqis for showing television footage of the captured American soldiers on Iraqi TV. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that ” it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner and needless to say, television that carry such pictures are, I would say doing something that’s unfortunate.”

In the five or six hours of TV war coverage I watched, I probably heard the words “Geneva Convention” 100 times. I was a little surprised that not one person pointed out that the United States is not applying the Geneva Convention to fighters captured in Afghanistan. In fact, the Bush Administration has been very vocal in its opposition to treating these prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Perhaps now that American soldiers are also being held, the administration will treat all prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

And what about the way the Israelis treat their prisoners? If there was ever an award to be given for the biggest violator of the Geneva Convention the Jewish State would win hands down. Why hasn’t George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld or, for that matter, any previous administration ever criticized or threatened Israel for its treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Over the years, Israel has habitually tortured innocent Palestinians to extract confessions. Detainees suffer long periods with urine-soaked hoods over their heads, are handcuffed and shackled to posts in painful and suffocating stooped positions, stretched backward over chairs with hands and feet tied to their legs, and they are never permitted the use of a bathroom. Red Cross lawyers and family are not allowed to even contact these prisoners. A number of Palestinian prisoners have died from torture at the hands of Israeli military. When the question came up in Israel just a few years ago of whether or not the practice of torture should be permitted in the light of international disapproval the courts approved it and the U.S. didn’t say a word. When it comes to violations of the Geneva Convention, I guess it’s only wrong “unless Israel does it.”

But maybe the most shocking of all violations of the Geneva Convention came during the 1967 Israeli war with the Egyptians. The Israeli army carried out a number of mass executions of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai, forcing them to dig ditches, then lining them up and shooting them. Dozens of eyewitnesses to these mass executions have reported what they saw, but the world’s politicians and media bosses pretend not to know. According to eyewitness accounts by Israeli officers and journalists, the Israeli Army – the army that claims to hold itself to a higher moral standard than other armies – executed as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners. Historian Gabby Bron wrote in the Yediot Ahronot in Israel that he witnessed Israeli troops executing Egyptian prisoners on the morning of June 8, 1967, in the Sinai town of El Arish. Bron reported that he saw about 150 Egyptian POWs being held at the El Arish airport where they were sitting on the ground, densely crowded together with their hands held on the back of their necks. Every few minutes, Bron writes, Israeli soldiers would escort an Egyptian POW from the group to a hearing conducted by two men in Israeli army uniforms. Then the man would be taken away, given a spade, and forced to dig his own grave. “I watched as (one) man dug a hole for about 15 minutes,” Bron wrote. “Afterwards, the (Israeli military) policeman told him to throw the shovel away, and then one of them leveled an Uzi at him and shot two short bursts, each of three or four bullets.” Bron says he witnessed about ten such executions, until the grave was filled. Then an Israeli Colonel threatened him with a revolver, forcing him to leave the area.

If you analyze world history you can see what has always happened to leaders, countries, or political organizations that become so powerful they cannot be publicly criticized. The United States has put the Israelis on such a high pedestal in America that it is impossible for anyone to make criticism. We talk about the Geneva Convention but just look at what we actually practice. We have one standard for the treatment of Israel that is so high they cannot be criticized no matter what grisly crimes they commit. Then we have a second standard for the treatment of Israel’s enemies that is so low we publicly finance their ethnic cleansing and torture. America has reasonably moral policies at home but our foreign policy is as corrupt, hypocritical, and violent as any of the third world dictatorships we love to look down upon and occasionally bomb.

James J. David is a retired Brigadier General and a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, and the National Security Course, National Defense University, Washington DC. He served as a Company Commander with the 101st Airborne Division in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and also served nearly 3 years of Army active duty in and around the Middle East from 1967-1969.