September 14, 2006 - 24 DEMS URGE PRESIDENT TO STOP JUSTICE DEPT. FROM UNDERMINING LAWS AGAINST TORTURE

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter signed by 23 other Democrats to President Bush in response to disturbing 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 policies which allowed the use of cruel and degrading treatment, and possibly even torture at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at secret CIA prisons abroad, and it 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.

The letter follows below, and a signed version can be found here: 09-14-06 - War Crimes Act Letter with signatures1.pdf 

September 14, 2006

The Honorable George W. Bush
President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

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.

Sincerely,

Edward J. Markey        John Conyers
Barney Frank              Rush Holt
James P. McGovern     Martin T. Meehan
Pete Stark                  Henry Waxman
John W. Olver             Raul M. Grijalva
Jim McDermott            Barbara Lee
Betty McCollum           Lloyd Doggett
Tammy Baldwin           Maxine Waters
Rosa L. DeLauro          Diane E. Watson
Sam Farr                    Michael Michaud
Maurice Hinchey          Carolyn B. Maloney
Michael M. Honda         José E. Serrano