Criticism of CIA abuses is justified but this should not necessarily be extended to the IHL compliance record of the US military

While CIA abuses are undoubted, the US military has a generally good IHL compliance record. Moreover, both US Supreme Court rulings over the last decade, and the recent Senate Committee Report into CIA abuses, demonstrate that the eventual self-correcting mechanisms of a liberal-democracy continue to advance international humanitarian law.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 11 December 2014
(published Monday, 15 December 2014)

Rex Williams (Letters, December 11) reverses both the law and key facts in so broadly condemning the US for the CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).

While there is no doubt that CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy, the US military actually has a very good IHL compliance record in its detention of both prisoners-of-war (PW) and of captured terrorists not qualifying for PW status under the Third Geneva Convention.

It was also the notable international precedent established by a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling (in the Hamdan case) that has effectively modernised and extended a key aspect of IHL by noting that such captured terrorists are still protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions.

Moreover, contrary to Rex’s claim, David Hicks’ undoubtedly lawful detention as a belligerent captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan — and Mamdouh Habib’s necessary release from US custody after being originally arrested in Pakistan (ie. not captured as a belligerent) — were both assured by the US’s overall commitment to IHL, not the opposite.

Finally, Islamist terrorists continue to abuse, torture and murder captives in flagrant violation of IHL without even a skerrick of criticism from those prone to condemning the US for everything.

IHL is universal and criticism of IHL breaches should be too.


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