Bush tries to shield those who abused prisoners

Political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel would not face prosecution for humiliating or degrading wartime prisoners under amendments to a war crimes law drafted by the Bush administration, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The amendments are part of the administration’s three-pronged response to a June 29 Supreme Court ruling that struck down as illegal and a violation of the Geneva Conventions the military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners, the Post said.

The court’s ruling gave prisoners captured in Afghanistan protections under the Geneva Conventions, which the administration previously maintained did not apply to them.

Citing unidentified U.S. officials, the newspaper said the administration plans to amend the 1996 War Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions, by narrowing the number of potential criminal prosecutions.

Only 10 specific categories of illegal acts against wartime detainees, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking, could be prosecuted under the amendments, it said.

The list would not include the kinds of humiliating acts, like forced nakedness, used at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison which fall short of torture but are nevertheless barred by the Geneva Conventions as "outrages upon personal dignity," it reported.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a Senate Committee last week the language of the Geneva Conventions was too vague and needed to be better defined by Congress.

Gonzales said Congress should provide a list of offenses that would constitute crimes under the Geneva Conventions’ requirement for humane treatment of prisoners. He said that would clarify rules for U.S. interrogators, who would be subject to felony charges for violations.

The amendments, which have not been released, are part of broader proposed legislation on military courts that is still under discussion, but key officials have already embraced their substance, the Post said.

There have been no criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act in the 10 years since it was enacted, it said.

The administration’s two other responses to the Supreme Court’s rejection of its military tribunal system have been to seek legislation blocking Guantanamo prisoners’ right to sue to enforce their newly won protections; and to draft a bill that replaces an absolute human rights standard with consideration of intelligence-gathering needs during interrogations.

© 2006 Reuters