Guantanamo prisoners get Geneva protections

In a move that can only be described as “a good thing”, the US has announced that all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in U.S. military custody everywhere are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the policy, outlined in a new Defense Department memo, reflects the recent 5-3 Supreme Court decision blocking military tribunals set up by President Bush. That decision struck down the tribunals because they did not obey international law and had not been authorized by Congress.

The memo instructs recipients to ensure that all Defense Department policies, practices and directives comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions governing the humane treatment of prisoners.

All Department of Defence personnel have been instructed to make sure the standards of the Geneva Conventions are complied with.

The New York Times also reports that the Supreme Court has ruled that military tribunals are illegal, noting that…

Today, Pentagon officials released a memo that was issued last Friday ordering that all detainees be treated in compliance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which requires humane treatment and a minimum standard of judicial protections.

… and giving details of much of the debate around this issue.

Reuters notes that the decision also bars sentencing or executing prisoners without a decision by “a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Even though the DOD says this is not a major policy shift, claiming that they “already had a policy of treating detainees humanely”, as The Guardian points out, previously the Geneva Conventions had been viewed with some contempt by the DOD.

Still, hopefully, this latest development will be seen as a major step forward towards the US demonstrably practicing the morality and humanity it preaches.

The fact that the Supreme Court can assert the law – even over the will of the President – should also restore some faith in the American democracy and may give those of us who have been disappointed of late a glimer of hope that America is still a great country.