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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, November 12, 2004

U.N. Report Slams Use of Torture to Beat Terror

UNITED NATIONS - No country can justify torture, the humiliation of prisoners or violation of international conventions in the guise of fighting terrorism, says a U.N. report released here.

The 19-page study, which is likely to go before the current session of the U.N. General Assembly in December, does not identify the United States by name but catalogues the widely publicized torture and humiliation of prisoners and detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. troops waging the so-called ”war on terrorism.”

Bush is thumbing his nose at the international community and all those who respect human rights by nominating Gonzales. You cannot simply up and bolt from the Geneva Conventions and the Anti-Torture Convention. Gonzales is Ashcroft without the edges and the delirium and the baritone. But the policy will remain the same.

Matt Rothschild, editor of 'The Progressive' magazine
The hard line taken by the United Nations comes amidst the controversial appointment of a new U.S. attorney general, who has implicitly defended the use of torture against ''terrorists'' and ''terror suspects''.

On Wednesday, U.S. President George W Bush named White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general to succeed John Ashcroft, who announced his resignation last week.

In a now-infamous memo to the White House in January 2002, Gonzales argued that captured members of the former ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan were not protected under the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). The United States has signed the Geneva Conventions.

The same policy was applied to prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad who were tortured and humiliated by U.S. troops following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, raising outrage among human rights activists and other people worldwide.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command is now prosecuting several U.S. soldiers on criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter, for their treatment of prisoners.

Gonzales has also described international conventions governing prisoners of war, including the Geneva Conventions, as ''obsolete.''

According to the author of the 19-page U.N. report, 'Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment', ''The condoning of torture is, per se, a violation of the prohibition of torture.”

The study, by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Theo van Boven, points out that ''legal argument of necessity and self-defense, invoking domestic law, have recently been put forward, aimed at providing a justification to exempt officials suspected of having committed or instigated acts of torture against suspected terrorists from criminal liability.''

But, Van Boven says, ''the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment means that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification for torture.''

Von Boven said he has received information ''on certain methods that have been condoned and used to secure information from suspected terrorists.''

He says these include, ''holding detainees in painful and-or stressful positions, depriving them of sleep and light for prolonged periods, exposing them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light, hooding, depriving them of clothing, stripping detainees naked and threatening them with dogs.''

''The jurisprudence of both international and regional human rights mechanisms is unanimous in stating that such methods violate the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,'' Von Boven adds.

In the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, he says, ''thousands of persons suspected of terrorism, including children, have been detained, denied the opportunity to have legal status determined and prevented from having access to lawyers.''

Some of them, he adds, are said to be still held in solitary confinement, ''which in itself may constitute a violation of the right to be free from torture.''

Asked if he supports a call by Amnesty International for an independent commission to probe U.S. detention policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Van Boven told reporters in October that such a probe is imperative.

''Whenever there are serious allegations of torture, investigations are absolutely necessary. And the results of these investigations should be made public because it's absolutely a public affair,'' said the special rapporteur.

In view of the U.N. position, the appointment of Gonzales as the new U.S. attorney general is a slap in the face of the international community, says Matt Rothschild, editor of 'The Progressive' magazine.

''Bush is thumbing his nose at the international community and all those who respect human rights by nominating Gonzales,'' Rothschild told IPS.

''You cannot simply up and bolt from the Geneva Conventions and the Anti-Torture Convention. Gonzales is Ashcroft without the edges and the delirium and the baritone. But the policy will remain the same,'' he added.

''It was Gonzales, along with Ashcroft and (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (Vice President Dick) Cheney, who signed off on tougher interrogation methods and on the hiding of prisoners from the International Red Cross,'' said Rothschild.

According to Francis A Boyle, who teaches international law at the University of Illinois, ''As White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales originated, authorized, approved and aided and abetted grave breaches of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949, which are serious war crimes.”

''In other words, Gonzales is a prima facie war criminal. He must be prosecuted under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. War Crimes Act,'' Boyle told IPS.

In any event, the U.S. Senate must reject his nomination, because, as a presumptive war criminal, Gonzales is not fit to be attorney general of the United States, he continued.

''Should Gonzales travel around the world in that capacity, human rights lawyers such as myself will attempt to get him prosecuted along the lines of what happened to (former Chilean dictator) General (Pinochet,'' said Boyle, author of 'Destroying World Order'.

Jordan J Paust, law foundation professor at the University of Houston, agrees with Boyle's thesis.

''The denial of protections under the Geneva Conventions is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and every violation of the laws of war is a war crime. Complicity in connection with war crimes (such as aiding and abetting the denial of protections) is also criminally sanctionable,'' Paust told IPS.

Thus, it appears Gonzales is reasonably accused of international criminal activity, he added, although he has the human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law that provides basic human rights to due process protections, ”that he chose to deny others with respect to the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay” (where Washington detains terror suspects).

''Whether or not Gonzales is guilty, the taint in this instance is surely enough to require that he not be confirmed in any U.S. governmental position, especially since the Bush administration has stated that it is still the policy of the United States to have a government under law and to promote the rule of law and human rights -- rights that are reflected also in the Geneva Conventions,'' Paust added.

''Making Alberto Gonzales the attorney general of the United States would be a travesty,'' says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

''It would mean taking one of the legal architects of an illegal and immoral policy and installing him as the official who is charged with protecting our constitutional rights. The Gonzales memo paved the way for Abu Ghraib,'' Ratner said in a statement issued Thursday.

Thalif Deen

Jimmy Carter: Casting a Vote for Peace

Atlanta - For more than 40 years, Yasir Arafat was the undisputed leader of the fragmented and widely dispersed Palestinian community and the symbol of its cause. His pre-eminent role was not perpetuated by his boldness or clarity of purpose, but was protected from challenge by his status as the only common denominator around which the disparate factions could find a rallying point.

It was very frustrating to deal with Mr. Arafat in seeking a clear position of the Palestinians, because he was very careful to avoid making a final decision that, when revealed, might arouse intense opposition or rebellion from one of the many competing groups that accepted him as its spokesman. At the same time, his sensitive political antennas endowed him with the ability to enunciate a consensus with reasonable accuracy.

When given a chance by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, Mr. Arafat responded well by concluding the Oslo Agreement of 1993, which spelled out a mutually satisfactory relationship on geographical boundaries between Israel and the Palestinians. The resulting absence of serious violence by either side was broken when a Jewish nationalist assassinated Mr. Rabin. Mr. Arafat later rejected a proposal devised by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, but its basic terms have led to positive initiatives between private groups of Israelis and Palestinians, in particular one known as the Geneva Accords. This proposal addresses the major issues that must be resolved through further official negotiations before a permanent peace can be realized.

In effect, peace efforts of a long line of previous administrations have been abandoned by President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. For the last three years of his life, Mr. Arafat was incapacitated and held as a prisoner, humiliated by his physical incarceration and excluded by the other two leaders from any recognition as the legitimate head of the Palestinian community. Recognizing Mr. Arafat's failure to control violence among his people or to initiate helpful peace proposals, I use the word "legitimate" based on his victory in January 1996 by a strong majority of votes in an election monitored by the Carter Center and approved by the occupying Israelis.

Lately, with Mr. Arafat politically and physically debilitated, the resulting leadership vacuum has been filled by factions, some of which have resorted to unconscionable acts of terrorism. The Israelis have used this political interregnum to impose their will unilaterally throughout Palestinian territories, with undeviating support from Washington. When the widely respected leader Mahmoud Abbas was chosen by the Palestinian governing authority to act as its alternative peace negotiator, his effectiveness was undermined by both Mr. Arafat (who saw his authority threatened) and by Mr. Sharon (who preferred to make decisions without considering a strong Palestinian voice).

If a respected successor to Mr. Arafat can be chosen by the Palestinians (not by the Israelis or Americans), then there is a new opportunity to initiate peace negotiations. While Mr. Abbas was elected by the organization yesterday as the chairman, it is unlikely that he or any other leader can achieve political legitimacy unless chosen through a democratic process.

Moreover, serious obstacles exist now that were not present in 1996. At that time, Palestinians were permitted to move freely, to campaign and to vote throughout Gaza and the West Bank. This included East Jerusalem, despite a last-minute altercation about whether votes were being "cast in" or "mailed from" voting places in post offices. Now, many more illegal Israeli settlements have been built throughout the West Bank, a road system connects them like a spider web, and a wall is being constructed that encroaches in substantial ways into Palestinian territory from the internationally accepted boundary.

Another deeply disturbing change is the decision by Hamas and other militant factions to resort to suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, whereas the hope for peace and justice discouraged such violence eight years ago. After that election, Hamas representatives rejected my efforts to have them accept Mr. Arafat as their political leader, and they continue to act independently.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has stated recently that peace in the Middle East is the most important international issue. It is to be hoped that, in Washington and Jerusalem, there is also recognition that a bold and balanced move to achieve this goal will help to attenuate the Middle East tension and hatred that exacerbates the global threat of terrorism.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is chairman of the Carter Center and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

Death Doc Lives -- But Why?

WHY IS Jack Kevorkian still alive?

The assisted-suicide enthusiast, who says he helped some 130 people kill themselves, is in prison for the 1998 murder of Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. While Kevorkian says that he never actively killed anyone before Youk -- he instead helped the afflicted kill themselves -- the death doc personally injected Youk with poison in 1998, and videotaped the procedure so it could be aired on "60 Minutes."

Kevorkian said at the time that he killed Youk on camera because he wanted to challenge Michigan's assisted-suicide law. He told the Oakland Press of Michigan he wanted a "showdown": "I want to be prosecuted for euthanasia. I am going to prove that this is not a crime, ever, regardless of what words are written on paper."

As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for. Kevorkian got his trial -- and to his surprise, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 10 to 25 years behind bars.

Kevorkian promptly threatened to go on a hunger strike in prison. After prison authorities announced they would not force-feed the death doc, presto change-o, he decided to eat. And live.

Now, after losing appeals, Kevorkian's attorney Mayer Morganroth is asking Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to pardon Kevorkian or commute his sentence. According to the Detroit Free Press, Morganroth cites Kevorkian's health problems -- high blood pressure, arthritis, hernias, hepatitis C, cataracts, heart disease, adrenal insufficiency suggestive of Addison's disease and lung disease -- as cause for Granholm to release Kevorkian from the slammer.

The irony here is that, before prison, Kevorkian saw the above as reason to release others from the mortal coil. While he likes to portray himself as a man who helped terminally ill people to die, many of his victims were not terminal, and it's not clear that some were particularly ill. His first victim, Janet Adkins, had early Alzheimer's disease, but she was 54 and fit enough to play tennis days before she visited Kevorkian's death van.

If Kevorkian, now 76, felt comfortable helping a fiftysomething tennis player pull her plug, surely he should regard his own poor health as deserving the ultimate remedy -- what he dubbed "medicide."

Explaining why his early victims were women, Kevorkian once explained that females are "far more realistic about facing death and have got the guts to do it."

According to the Oakland Press, Morganroth said Kevorkian doesn't expect his client to live "more than a year." Truth be told, Team Kevorkian has a bit of a credibility problem. An appeals brief claims that Kevorkian injected Youk, not so much to kill Youk as to relieve his pain. Bunk.

This is choice: The brief sought an appeal because Kevorkian had incompetent counsel advising him. (Kevorkian served as his own lawyer, but had attorneys advising him.) Now, according to Morganroth's brief, Kevorkian "was under the impression that he was represented by counsel throughout the trial."

Again, if Kevorkian is senile and sickly, shouldn't he be asking for deliverance instead of a commutation?

Think: Kevorkian has piled up 130 corpses. He helped kill people without really knowing their medical condition. He extolled the virtues of "death with dignity." When Michigan passed laws to prevent the carnage, he continued to participate in assisted suicides, even experimenting with sick new twists, such as the time he removed kidneys from a corpse -- ostensibly for transplantation, except no real doctor would touch those butchered parts.

Now Kevorkian's lawyer says he should be free because he is sick. There is no talk of "death with dignity." There is no talk of quality-of-life issues. There is no insistence on autonomy. To the contrary, while Kevorkian thought others should die if they lacked freedom of movement, he survived some five years in prison.

When you're Jack Kevorkian, life is sweet. Even behind bars.

E-mail Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

Abortion, Anti-Christian Record Too Strident for Specter to Cover Up

WASHINGTON, November 11, 2004 Arlen Specter's political troubles are growing, with the Hill Times, the newspaper of Congress, saying the Republicans are not 'circling the wagons' against the growing tide of conservative opposition to his appointment as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This is huge with the base. It's mushrooming, and it's not going away," a GOP Senate aide said. Now two new items have come to light about the abortion-supporting senator's commitment to anti-Christian dogmatism.

Two newspaper interviews report Specter vowing that he would block pro-life and "extremist" judges appointed by President Bush, contradicting claims to impartiality he made last week. In one interview, The Bucks County Courier Times reported, "Specter said he does use his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee - a panel he will probably begin chairing next year if re-elected - to weed out judges who are extreme. He points to Robert Bork, a Ronald Reagan nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, published an editorial board endorsement of Specter's candidacy after receiving a commitment from Specter to block nominees from President Bush. The Inquirer editorial said, "Before the Post-Gazette editorial board, he promised that no extremists would be approved for the bench."

The Inquirer endorsement of Specter said, "Assuming that Republicans are in charge of the Senate, it would be better to have the chairman's seat filled by Specter, who says Roe v. Wade is 'inviolate' as the law of the land." Commenting on the likelihood of Specter's appointment to the Chairmanship the editors wrote, "In that capacity, he would be in a position to block some of the ideologically extreme federal judges likely to be nominated by President Bush in a second term, some of them for the Supreme Court."

On another front, a fundraising letter written by Specter in 1995 has been brought to light in which he called Christian leaders "radical extremists." Talon News reports that, naming the leaders of the Christian Coalition, Specter wrote that he was "disturbed" that the Christian Coalition had warned the Republican Party not to nominate a candidate for president in 1996 who is not pro-life.

"I don't think the Republican Party should be blackmailed by any special interest group," Specter wrote in the 1995 letter. He added, "In fact, I want the Republican Party to stand up for ... the right to choose." In a statement that will be seen by pro-life groups as deeply ironic, Specter continued, "I resent people like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Pat Buchanan trying to give litmus tests to determine who can be a Republican candidate."

Specter vowed to "stand up to these extremists" and promised to "lead the fight to ... strip the strident anti-choice language" from the Republican Party platform. "I will stand up and fight those who want to criminalize abortion, those who would prosecute a woman and her doctor when they exercise the woman's right to choose," Specter wrote.

In the letter Specter urged pro-abortion Republicans to "stand up to the far-right fringe that demands that legal abortion be banned."

Specter is seeing his support drying up. Senator Rick Santorum, who initially supported his bid for the Chairmanship has issued only a bland statement. "The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have the responsibility of voting for chairman. As I'm not a member of this committee, I will not be participating in the voting process."

"I have not heard of any Republican senators coming to his defense yet, which is good news for us," said Jayd Henricks, director of congressional relations for the Family Research Council. "This is not a good thing for keeping party unity. They may be waiting to see if the storm dies down, but I don't think the pressure's going to let up, from our standpoint."

Talon news coverage of Specter's letter:

Testimony on State Torture, Imprisonment Shocks Chile

The documentation of state-sponsored torture during a right-wing dictatorship in Chile caused a stir.

SANTIAGO, Chile - A massive official report containing 35,000 testimonials of alleged political imprisonment or torture during Chile's right-wing dictatorship caused a stir Wednesday when President Ricardo Lagos received it, the first-ever government-sponsored recounting.

Lagos said Chile could bear the soul-searching that's likely to be sparked by testimony from thousands of Chileans who say they were tortured during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 17-year rule.

Human rights groups criticized Lagos for not making the findings public immediately. He said he wanted a few weeks to review them first and find ways to compensate the victims.

Throughout South America, left-leaning governments such as Lagos' have been elected in the past five years. They're now seeking a full accounting of human rights abuses and disappearances in the 1970s and '80s, when right-wing dictatorships suppressed leftists and other opponents.

Those who testified before Chile's National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture described how Pinochet's regime tortured opponents, real or perceived. Earlier this month, army brass acknowledged for the first time that the abuse was institutional, not the excesses of a few individuals.

Lagos, a Duke University-educated socialist leading a centrist coalition, is the first Chilean president to fully investigate and seek redress for victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, which began on Sept. 11, 1973, with U.S. help and lasted until 1990.

On Wednesday, Lagos said Chileans should be proud of themselves. ''How many countries have ventured to deeply examine their history? How many countries have ventured to get to the bottom of what happened? Chile has ventured. It's a solid country, stable. We can do it,'' he said.

After Chile returned to democracy, an independent commission in 1991 placed the number of opponents and soldiers killed during Pinochet's rule at 3,197. But until the new report there was no look at offenses short of killings.

In response to the report, the dictatorship's feared first intelligence chief, Manuel Contreras, denied Wednesday that Pinochet's regime had sponsored torture.

''In the National Intelligence Headquarters there was not political torture nor detaining of people to kill them or anything like that,'' Contreras said as he left a Santiago courtroom where he'd received a 15-year sentence for the kidnapping of an opposition politician in December 1974.

Luis Navarro, one of the thousands of Chileans whom the torture commission interviewed this year, told Knight Ridder he was a photographer with the Roman Catholic Church's human rights office in 1981 when he was kidnapped. He testified that he was taken to a jail run by the state intelligence agency, held incommunicado for five days, blindfolded, deprived of sleep, tortured and drugged.

''They punctured my gums; I felt them puncturing them. Later, my teeth fell out, one by one. And I didn't have cavities,'' Navarro said. ``I have nightmares even today. It's been difficult to have to remember this.''

The Ethical Commission Against Torture, a Chilean group that represents torture victims, on Wednesday released a letter calling on Lagos to provide monetary reparations to victims as well as medical and psychological assistance. The group estimates that 1,200 torture centers operated during Pinochet's rule. The state should identify the 3,600 soldiers or agents who oversaw those torture operations and bring them to justice, the letter said.

Amnesty laws protecting past military leaders from prosecution are being revoked in Argentina.


Knight Ridder News Service

Hughes reported from Santiago; Hall from Rio de Janeiro

J'accuse: War Crimes & Iraq

“…The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives…”
Article 48, 1977 addition to the Geneva Conventions, Part IV

Consider the following:

On Oct. 8, U.S. fighter bombers carried out what the Pentagon called a “precision strike” against “terrorist leaders” in Falluja, a sprawling city of 300,000 west of Baghdad. For the past two months Falluja has been the target of a bombing campaign. According to the New York Times, the attack wounded 17 people, nine of whom were women and children. The victims were apparently from a wedding party that had just dispersed.

The Times went on to quote a “senior Pentagon official” who said, “We know what the strike was supposed to hit and we hit it. If a wedding party was going on, well, it was in concert with a meeting of a top Zarqawi lieutenant.” Zarqawi is a Jordanian who has claimed credit for numerous roadside bombings and assassinations in Iraq.

But according to Article 50 of the Conventions, “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

In short, the attack violated the Conventions, and the “Pentagon official”—most likely Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—should be arrested and tried for violating international law. Since the attack constituted a “grave breach” of the Conventions, the official could also be charged under the 1996 U.S. War Crimes Act.

In the same article, the Times also quoted a “senior Bush administration official” as saying that the bombing was helpful for exploiting “fault lines” in Falluja, and that it would push the “citizenry” of Falluja to deny sanctuary and assistance to the insurgents, adding “that’s a good thing.”

The “official” might, indeed, think it was “a good thing,” but it also violated Article 51, which states: “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.”

A “Pentagon official” also told the Times: “If there are civilians dying in connection with these attacks, and with the destruction, the locals at some point have to make a decision. Do they want to harbor the insurgents and suffer the consequences that come with that?”

In other words, terrify the civilian population into cooperating, a strategy that Article 51 explicitly forbids: “Acts or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population, are prohibited.”

Violations of the Convention

The violations of the Convention are not limited to the bombing campaigns. The Washington Post recently revealed that the Bush administration allowed the CIA to transfer Iraqi combatants out of the country (a violation of Article 49) and to hide them from the Red Cross (a violation of Article 63).

According to an FBI report, FBI agents visiting Abu Ghraib Prison, witnessed hooded and chained Iraqi prisoners being slapped by U.S. soldiers, who told the agents it was a sleep depravation technique. The agents also saw prisoners held naked in tiny isolation cells. The Defense Department readily admits it uses loud music, painful restraints, and a semi-drowning technique called “water boarding,” to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation.

All of the above behavior breaks numerous parts of the Convention. Article 85, for instance, says that, “Sleeping quarters shall be sufficiently spacious and well ventilated.” Article 90 instructs that, “The clothing supplied by the Detaining Power to internees and the outward marking placed on their clothing shall not be ignominious or expose them to ridicule.” Article 117 says, “Imprisonment in premises without daylight, and in general, all forms of cruelty without exception are prohibited.”

Besides transgressions of Geneva, the agents also witnessed violations of several other international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory.

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN Convention Against Torture prohibits, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession,” adding “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever… may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

On Oct. 27, Theo van Boven, UN director of reports on torture, expressed “serious concern” over “allegations of attempts to circumvent the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill treatment in the name of countering terrorism, particularly in relationship to interrogation and conditions of detention of prisoners.” While he did not charge the U.S. by name, there is no argument about to whom he was referring.

The Bush administration likes to invoke the so-called changed nature of the post-9/11 world as the attacks created new conditions that render the Conventions obsolete, somehow trumping U.S. adherence to international law. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales dismisses the Geneva Conventions as “quaint,” and the U.S. Justice Department wrote up memos giving the CIA the right to violate both international laws and the U.S. War Crimes Act.

Systematic Violations

But systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions by the U.S. hardly started with 9/11. Indeed, they are characteristic of virtually every conflict the U.S. has been involved in since the end of World War II. The following are just a few examples:

According to a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning series by Associated Press, it was the official policy of the U.S. military to fire on South Korean civilians during the Korean War. U.S. bombing also obliterated virtually every civilian target in North Korea.

In Vietnam, civilians living in “free fire zones”—most of the country—were considered valid targets, and civilians were overwhelmingly the victims of bombing during the Indochina war. Then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger instructed the U.S. Air Force to bomb “anything that moved” in Cambodia. From 1967 to 1970, the “Phoenix Program” assassinated some 60,000 to 70,000 civilians in South Vietnam. A U.S. Congressional study found that the Program “appears to have violated the 1948 Geneva Conventions for the protection of civilians.”

Bombing attacks in the first Gulf War and the Kosovo War systematically targeted power plants and grids, railway stations, refineries, communication networks, sewerage treatment facilities, and water purification plants, in spite of Article 54 of the Geneva Conventions which prohibits attacking any objectives “indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”

One could even make a case that the use of hundreds of tons of Depleted Uranium Ammunition (DUA) in Kosovo and the two Gulf wars constitutes a war crime. The Conventions clearly require the victorious party to assume responsibility for the conquered civilian population and to clean up the chaos of war. DUA has poisoned water supplies in Iraq, parts of Kuwait, and Yugoslavia, and birth defects and cancer incidences are far higher in areas where DUA was used. The U.S., however, claims that DUA poses no potential health risks, and therefore it doesn’t have to remove the low-level radioactive debris.

It is not only a record Americans should be ashamed of; it is one that should make us afraid. The Geneva Conventions and other international laws were not drawn up by bleeding heart liberals, nor were they designed to protect weaker nations. They were a response to the enormous numbers of civilian casualties inflicted by World War II, and as a practical way to shield everyone’s armed forces from humiliation, torture and death at the hands of an adversary.

If we are cavalier or dismissive about international law, it will encourage others to be so as well. The most likely victims of that policy will be we civilians, as well as our own uniformed forces. If we torture prisoners and hide them from the eyes of organizations like the Red Cross, why shouldn’t others do the same to our soldiers and civilians?

In a recent commentary in the Financial Times, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, wrote: “The struggle against terrorism cannot be legitimate if it undermines basic values shared by humanity. The right to life and protection against murder, torture and degrading treatment must be at the heart of the actions of those engaged in this struggle. The struggle will lose credibility if it is used to justify acts otherwise considered unacceptable, such as the killing of people not participating in hostilities.”

Apart from the inhumanity our actions engender, as an entirely practical matter, to do anything less than Kellenberger suggests is to place our own people in harm’s way.

{Conn Hallinan is a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus and a Lecturer in Journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz.)