Redefining War Crimes out of Existence

The Washington Post today details how the Bush administration is desperately scrambling to get Congress to pass a law to retroactively legalize torture.

OK, this is not exactly what the Post said — they would not be so ill-mannered towards the government.

But the Supreme Court’s decision last month declaring that the Bush order on enemy combatants was illegal means that the Bush team also did not have the right to torture detainees.  With the War Crimes Act of 1996, Congress effectively incorporated the Geneva Convention on treating detainees into the U.S. statute book.

As the Post notes,

The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated “humanely.” The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or “nationals.”

Attorney General Gonzales is sweating that even top government officials (like himself) could face charges if the law is vigorously enforced.

However, since it would be up to the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute, he probably has little to fear.  The Bush team wants Congress to amend the law to make it clear that it does not apply to high-ranking government officials.

The torture scandal continues to elucidate the prevailing Washington definition of decency.