In a turn for the better, the US Defence Department has decided that the Geneva Convention does apply to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It seems some parts of the US Adminstration believe in international laws and conventions.
Here's how crikey.com.au reported this good news.
Another small step forward for David Hicks
The US Defence Department seemingly bowed to the inevitable yesterday, promising to treat its detainees in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. This follows the Supreme Court's decision two weeks ago in Hamdan v Rumsfeld that the proposed military commissions to try detainees were unlawful, in part because they would violate the Conventions.
The announcement was accompanied by denials that it represents a change in policy. According to The New York Times, officials "told reporters that the memo represented an affirmation of a duty that was already being met voluntarily". But the Bush administration had repeatedly argued that the Conventions did not apply to the detainees, since they were "unlawful combatants", not prisoners of war.
The US government's strategy has been to try to have things both ways. It claims to be at war, which gives it the right to detain enemy combatants for the duration, but at the same time denies that they are entitled to the usual protection of prisoners of war. It maintains that there is some third status, different from both prisoners of war and common criminals, with the liabilities of both but the protections of neither.
This, of course, is the limbo in which David Hicks has been kept for the last four and a half years. But the Geneva Conventions lend no support to the notion of such a limbo. If enemy soldiers have fought unlawfully, they can be tried for war crimes, but such trials have to meet basic standards of fairness. If they are outside the laws of war altogether, then the only alternative is to treat them as ordinary criminals.
Despite the insistence of the likes of Janet Albrechtsen, there is no reason to think that the laws of war are inadequate for Hicks's situation. If he was really in a war, he's entitled to be treated accordingly. If he's just a member of some international criminal conspiracy, then he belongs in the civilian courts. But don't expect either the US or Australian government to accept that logic any time soon.