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Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Memo, Yoo: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees

John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Robert Delahunty, Special Counsel, prepare a memo for William Haynes, General Counsel, Department of Defence. In it, they conclude that members of al Qaeda and members of the Taliban are not entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.
Three reasons, examined in detail below, support this conclusion. First, al Qaeda's status as a non-State actor renders it ineligible to claim the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Second, the nature of the conflict precludes application of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Third, al Qaeda members fail to satisfy the eligibility requirements for treatment as POWs under Geneva Convention III.
Regarding the first reason, the memo states:
Common Article 2, which triggers the Geneva Convention provisions regulating detention conditions and procedures for trial of POWs, is limited only to cases of declared war or armed conflict "between two or more of the High Contracting Parties." Al Qaeda is not a High Contracting Party. As a result, the U.S. military's treatment of al Qaeda members is not governed by the bulk of the Geneva Conventions,
Here is the relevant excerpt from the conventions. The second and third paragraph of Common Article 2 ("Common" meaning all four conventions share it) states:
The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.

Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof.

For those interested in the spirit of the law regarding the final paragraph, the First Report by the Special Committee of the joint Committee, to which reference has already been made, states: "according to the spirit of the four Conventions, the Contracting States shall apply them, in so far as possible, as being the codification of rules which are generally recognized".
The spirit and character of the Conventions lead perforce to the conclusion that the Contracting Power must at least apply their provisions from the moment hostilities break out until such time as the adverse Party has had the time and an opportunity to state his intentions. That may not be a strictly legal interpretation; it does not altogether follow from the text itself; but it is in our opinion the only reasonable solution. It follows from the spirit of the Conventions, and is in accordance with their character. It is also in accordance with the moral interest of the Contracting Power, inasmuch as it invites the latter to honour a signature given before the world.
Regarding the second reason, the memo states:
Al Qaeda is not covered by common Article 3, because the current conflict is not covered by the Geneva Conventions. As discussed in Part I, the text of Article 3, when read in harmony with Common Article 2, shows that the Geneva Conventions were intended to cover either: a) traditional wars between Nation States (Article 2), or non-international civil wars (Article 3). Our conflict with al Qaeda does not fit into either category.
The first paragraph of Common Article 2 states
In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.
For those interested in the spirit of the law:
By its general character, this paragraph deprives belligerents, in advance, of the pretexts they might in theory put forward for evading their obligations. There is no need for a formal declaration of war, or for the recognition of the existence of a state of war, as preliminaries [p.23] to the application of the Convention. The occurrence of de facto hostilities is sufficient.
The third reason relies upon the first two reasons given in the memo being correct. The memo states:
Article 4(A)(2) of the Geneva Convention III defines prisoners of war as including not only captured members of the armed forces of a High Contracting Party, but also irregular forces such as "[m]embers of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements." Geneva Convention III, art. 4. Article 4(A)(3) also includes as POWs "[m]embers of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power." Id. art. 4(A)(3). It might be claimed that the broad terms of these provisions could be stretched to cover al Qaeda.

This view would be mistaken. Article 4 does not expand the application of the Convention beyond the circumstances expressly addressed in common Articles 2 and 3. Unless there is a conflict subject to Article 2 or 3 (the Convention's jurisdictional provisions), Article 4 simply does not apply.


Blogger elendil said...

A quotation from Yoo, taken from a Guardian article in Dec 2005:
``The debate is whether you can use interrogation methods that are short of torture,'' he said. ``Some who have been critical of the Bush administration have confused torture with cruel, inhumane treatment.''

12/12/05 4:45 pm  

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