Powell Assertion Number Two: In his Feb. 5, 2003 speech to the U.N., Powell said: "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program." But in October, 2002, in his memo to the White House, CIA Director George Tenet voiced "strong doubts about a claim President Bush" was about to make in the State of the Union address "that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials" from Africa. And on July 24, 2003, Spain's Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, an ally of the U.S., said their was "no evidence" prior to the U.S. attack on Iraq of a nuclear bomb program by Saddam, according to the Hanley article in Editor & Publisher.
Powell Assertion Number Three: Powell told the U.N. he had proof that Saddam was deploying "Contamination Vehicles" associated with chemical weapons on at least two sites. Those alleged contamination vehicles turned out to be water and fire trucks, according to what Norwegian U.N. inspector John Siljeholm told the AP on March 19, 2003 (Hanley, 2004).
Powell Assertion Number Four: Powell said in his U.N. speech that there were believed to be portable "biological weapons factories" on trucks and train cars. After the U.S. invasion, "no trace of biological agents" was ever found on any truck or train cars, Hanley reported.
Powell Assertion Number Five: Powell asserted before the U.N. that 8,500 liters of the deadly agent anthrax had been produced by Iraq, but none has been found post-invasion, Hanley writes.
And so, the important point here is not a criticism of Colin Powell, per se, but rather, the great lengths a superpower nation will go in the "fight against terrorism" - even if the justification for aggression is on shaky ground. This is how September 11, 2001, and the threat of more terrorism, has affected the rule of law on an international playing field.
Terrorism's Effect on Humanitarian Law
One of the universally respected international humanitarian laws, observed by members of the United Nations, is the Geneva Convention, adopted by most civilized nations on Earth in 1949, in Geneva, Switzerland, following the atrocities and genocide of WWII. Article 25 of the Geneva Convention: "Prisoners of war shall be quartered under conditions as favourable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area. The said conditions shall make allowance for the habits and customs of the prisoners and shall in no case be prejudicial to their health."
Meanwhile, following the invasion of Iraq, and during the occupation of Iraq, the U.S. military conducted a number of actions against Iraqi prisoners of war (who were later identified by the military as "suspected terrorists") that clearly crossed the line from interrogations into torture. The abuses took place in the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. On May 24, 2004, pictures became available (on the Internet and throughout the world on television) showing such things as American soldiers laughing over dead Iraqis "whose bodies had been abused and mutilated" (Barry, et al., 2004). According to an investigative article in Newsweek International, there were also images of U.S. troops "forcing Iraqis to masturbate," and soldiers "sexually assaulting Iraqis with chemical light sticks." Further, the photos showed "a hooded man standing naked on a box, arms outspread, with wires dangling from his fingers, toes, and penis."
These acts of torture certainly captured the attention of nations all around the world, and the investigation by Newsweek shoed that "as a means of pre-empting a repeat of 9/11, Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods." By doing so, Bush, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft "overrode the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and America's top military lawyers."
According to "internal government memos" obtained by Newsweek, White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales wrote a lengthy memo to Bush, stating that the "war against terrorism is a new kind of war," and as such, "places a high premium" on the ability of the U.S. military to "quickly obtain information from captured terrorists..." In his opinion, Gonzales wrote, "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
In other words, international humanitarian law was being ignored aside by the U.S., because its provisions against inhumane treatment of prisoners were "quaint." Article 99 of Geneva Conventions: "No moral or physical coercion may be exerted on a prisoner of war in order to induce him to admit himself guilty of the act of which he is accused."
Should the Framework of International Law be altered? Clearly, the new rules of engagement and rules of deportment by American soldiers put in place because of the threat of terrorism are not within the bounds of international humanitarian law. Referring back to UN Article 2(3), in which it provides that international disputes shall be settled "by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security..."not be compromised, a recent article on the Europe Intelligence Wire (January 17, 2005) reported that Bush "has signed a series of orders authorizing commando groups to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East," including Iran.
And so, indeed, if a superpower like the U.S. infiltrates at will, numerous nations, targeting suspected terrorists, and has basically created entirely new rules of engagement (vis-a-vis terrorism), what purpose would there be in altering existing the framework of international law?
Speaking of the flaunting of international humanitarian law, and making up new rules, there are reports which allege the U.S. committed "prisoner abuse and possible war crimes" (Worldsources Online, 2004) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Taliban fighters caught during the Afghanistan engagement are being kept. Although Rumsfeld reportedly knew about the alleged abuses, he "chose to do nothing about it," the article asserted. The reports come from Hersh's book, Chain of Command, which reports that some prisoners were "left in strait-jackets in intense sunlight with hoods over their heads" as part of their interrogation.
Again, the question is pertinent: what would be gained by an international conference on humanitarian law which sets out to alter global rules against abuse by individual nations? On that topic, an article in the Michigan Law Review (Schulhofer, 2004) asks a highly appropriate question, regarding the Bush Administration's "assertions of executive detention power" in the matter of holding "suspected terrorists incommunicado for several years."
On what grounds has the U.S. held "suspected terrorists" in cages at Guantanamo? "On nothing more than a unilateral Presidential determination of their involvement," Schulhofer writes. And, he adds, "many say that executive abuse [is] far less likely and less harmful than a devastating attack that unhampered executive officials could prevent." Others add, "unchecked executive power is always too dangerous"; so, the debate rages in America while Geneva Convention rules are ignored with regard to prisoners in Cuba.
The following acts shall remain prohibited," Article 3 of the Geneva Convention asserts: "Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture..." Also prohibited: "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment..." It cannot be denied that the alleged humiliation and abuse visited upon Taliban prisoners by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay is clearly outside of the rules of the Geneva Convention, which has been the "Bible" of conduct for conflicts over fifty years. An Associated Press article published January 27, detailed the "outrageous" ways in which female "interrogators" pressured these prisoners, who are members of the Islamic faith. Knowing that Islamic law prohibits a husband from physical contact with any other women, and that menstruating women are "considered unclean" (Dodds, 2005), the female contractor / interrogator reportedly pretended she was menstruating and put her hands "in her pants...and he could see she was taking her hand out of her pants."
She then wiped red ink on his face," so he would think it was her menstruation fluids. "He began to cry like a baby," Dodds wrote. In another case, according to the AP, which obtained classified documents intended for a Pentagon review, a female interrogator removed her uniform top to "expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection."
As to changing the framework of international law, if the U.S. can write its own rules which are clearly outside the spirit and intent of international laws, likely other nations are doing the same. Notwithstanding the justifiable rage the U.S. feels towards…