Washington, DC -- Today, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Taskforce on Nonproliferation, began circulating a letter to President Bush in response to disturbing press reports that the Justice Department is drafting a bill to amend the War Crimes Act of 1996 to shield U.S. personnel who have violated the Geneva Conventions.  Creating exemptions from international laws governing the treatment of prisoners during wartime seriously endangers our troops abroad, as well as Foreign Service officers and other Americans living abroad.  Rep. Markey, a senior member of the House, has introduced H.R. 952, a bill to end the abhorrent practice of extraordinary rendition, in which prisoners captured or held by the U.S. are transferred to countries known to practice torture and other forms of cruel treatment.  

Markey stated, “This Administration has presided over and implemented bad practices and possibly even torture at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at secret CIA prisons abroad, and has also made use of the abhorrent practice of extraordinary rendition, which essentially outsources torture and other cruel treatment to other countries.”

 “The Geneva Conventions are the only guarantee that American troops have that if they’re captured, they will be treated fairly and will not be tortured or treated cruelly.   Exempting U.S. personnel from abiding by those international laws governing our treatment of prisoners gives the green light for other countries to mistreat, torture, and kill our own troops or expats without consequence,” Markey continued.  

Markey’s letter to the President is being circulated now to all members of the House and is below:

Dear President Bush:

We are writing to you to express our deep concern over press reports that your administration may be considering introducing legislation that could result in an increased threat of inhumane treatment of our troops abroad should they become prisoners of war.

According to an article in the July 28, 2006 Washington Post, Justice Department officials have begun drafting legislation to amend the War Crimes Act of 1996 in order to grant U.S. personnel new protections from prosecution for violations of the Geneva Conventions.  Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales reportedly has also begun discussions with lawmakers to garner support for such changes, according to the article. 

We are opposed to any changes in the War Crimes Act that would have the effect of undermining the proscriptions against torture or other cruel or degrading treatment contained in the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.  Such legislation, if adopted, would risk endangering American military personnel around the world by inviting reciprocal treatment by our adversaries and would harm the reputation of the United States as a leader promoting and protecting human rights.

Any changes to the War Crimes Act, which criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions, or other U.S. laws which implement our commitments under the Geneva Conventions, invite others to similarly weaken their observation of requirements for humane treatment of all detainees anywhere.  American personnel and especially American troops around the world depend on the universality of the Geneva Conventions to protect them from murder, torture, and other inhumane treatment should they become prisoners.  The United States cannot afford to invite the mistreatment of its soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen abroad by weakening our commitments to the fair and humane treatment of detainees in our custody or control.


For further information, visit http://markey.house.gov.

July 28, 2006

CONTACT: Israel Klein