Images of POWs violates Geneva Convention, experts say

Los Angeles Times, Mar. 24, 2002
By Judy Pasternak, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON–Article 13 of the Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949, states that prisoners of war shall not be exposed to “public curiosity.” The broadcast images of American captives in uniform, terror on their faces as they are questioned about why they came to Iraq, clearly violate the rules, according to international law experts and human rights advocates.

The International Committee of the Red Cross joined U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in denouncing the broadcasts on Iraqi television, which were later picked up by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite network. “It’s very clear that prisoners of war shouldn’t be subject to public exposure,” Red Cross spokeswoman Nadia Doumani told Agence France-Presse.

But the United States has also been criticized for photo images of prisoners it has captured. Indeed, it was the last nation publicly scolded by the Red Cross for the release of footage showing al-Qaida and Taliban captives, bound and sullen, as they were transported to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and

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And both over the past week and in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, American media showed many pictures of long lines of surrendering Iraqi soldiers, hands in the air.

Indeed, an Al-Jazeera employee who requested anonymity noted that “everyone showed footage of Iraqi prisoners of war just a day ago, and no one said a thing about that.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Tim Blair, said that photographers and camera crews traveling with U.S. military units were asked not to show Iraqi prisoners. But in any case, these images are not as troublesome because they don’t provide close-ups or identify individuals, according to experts.

The Iraqi government more directly disregarded the ban, using the images of prisoners to show viewers that it is still in business and militarily potent.

“It was Iraqi state television,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “That’s clearly an Iraqi government conscious decision to show them being humiliated.”

Added St. Louis University law Professor Derek P. Jinks, an expert in human rights issues: “This kind of thing can revivify the Iraqi spirit” and could inspire sympathizers and would-be terrorists as well.

But a more immediate concern is what the broadcasts portend for the way the soldiers, as many as a dozen, are being treated off-camera–though, as Michael F. Noone Jr., a Catholic University law professor and a former Air Force judge advocate, noted, “In a way, it’s good that it happened, because (a) we know they’re alive and (b) we know they haven’t been badly mistreated.”

Captives from the 1991 Gulf War were also shown on television, with one, U.S. Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, denouncing the war as unjustified.

He and other prisoners later told of being tortured by the Iraqis, and Pentagon officials were expressing worry even before this campaign started about treatment of prisoners by a regime with little left to lose. “If the worst problem they face is being shown on camera, we would all breathe a sigh of relief,” Malinowski said.

The Iraqi defense minister, Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, said in a news conference Sunday that prisoners of war would be treated according to the Geneva Convention. “Iraq will not harm the captured prisoners of war,” he said, “We have values and principles.”

But the interrogation techniques already broadcast–in which the captives are asked for information beyond name, rank and serial number –may violate the convention, Jinks said.

Alleged violators of the Geneva Convention can be put on trial as war criminals if they are captured. Jinks said anyone from the government official who ordered the broadcast to the camera operator who filmed the prisoners could be tried.

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)