What U.S. newspapers are saying

Feb. 9, 2002 at 10:23 AM
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New York Times

The White House gave Secretary of State Colin Powell a limited victory Thursday by acknowledging that the Geneva Convention applies to the Afghanistan conflict and therefore broadly governs the treatment of captured Taliban fighters, though not al Qaeda terrorists, detained in Guantánamo, Cuba. Earlier administration declarations seemed to place the United States outside the convention, troubling European and other allies already concerned about Mr. Bush's disdain for a wide range of international agreements.

American military commanders were also concerned that by ignoring the convention entirely, Washington might endanger American soldiers captured in some future conflict. Mr. Bush was wise to revisit Attorney General John Ashcroft's misguided advice that the convention simply did not apply. Unfortunately, the White House, contrary to the convention's generally understood meaning, remains unwilling to invoke the provision that would open the way to classifying some of the Taliban soldiers as prisoners of war.

Doubts about whether individuals qualify as prisoners of war are supposed to be resolved by a legal tribunal. Instead Mr. Bush simply declared that the irregular nature of the Taliban's armed forces made all Taliban fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status. An arbitrary decision by the president is not an acceptable substitute for due process. It also weakens protections that the convention provides for American soldiers who may be captured. ...

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they ignored treaties and abused the human and legal rights of their people. America upholds a higher standard of justice, including a commitment to fair trials and adherence to the rule of law. Mr. Bush should be proud to underscore this distinction by honoring all the requirements of the Geneva Convention.

Boston Globe

For war crimes and crimes against humanity, there must be a universal standard. Perhaps the most glaring current example of an international failure to uphold a single standard for such crimes is the tactful restraint of the democracies on the subject of Russia's vicious bloodletting in Chechnya.

When the Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic was arraigned before an international tribunal in The Hague for presiding over ethnic cleansing, rape, torture, and mass murders in Bosnia and Kosovo, his trial suggested a norm for the protection of all civilians. The criminal behind the war crimes enjoys no immunity from prosecution because he was a chief of state or a head of government. If double standards are applied to such crimes, then Milosevic's complaint that he is the victim of political persecution may ring true.

Sad to say, Russia's sympathy for Milosevic during his slaughter of civilians in Kosovo forms a fearful symmetry with American and European tolerance of the crimes perpetrated against Chechen civilians by Russian forces under President Vladimir Putin.

Those crimes have continued unchecked since the fall of 1999. The Russian human rights organization Memorial has reported in detail about particular Russian military operations in Chechnya in which large numbers of civilians were taken hostage. Some were used as human shields and then mutilated and murdered. Women were raped and, to the surprise of Memorial, later overcame Chechen cultural constraints and spoke about what was done to them. Other civilians were tortured, robbed, or held for ransom. ...

To its credit, the State Department last month condemned recent Russian operations in Chechnya as ''a continuation of human rights violations,'' citing the ''use of overwhelming force against civilian targets.'' To adhere to a single standard for war crimes, though, the Bush administration should insist that Putin accept international observers in Chechnya who are able to investigate charges of Russian war crimes.

Washington Times

A country in America's back yard is steadily imploding with escalating terrorist attacks. Colombia has come under the siege of the FARC guerrilla group, despite a highly-publicized cease-fire agreement the group recently struck with the government. Alarmingly, the FARC has taken its terrorist, guerrilla tactics into the country's capital, Bogota, which adds a new dimension to the country's four-decade-old conflict that has claimed about 200,000 lives. The FARC has also started aggressively targeting the infrastructure that the country depends on economically and has been aiming directly at the police, one of the more competent defenders of civil order and stability.

The troubles in Colombia are a problem for Americans; the country provides the United States with 80 percent of its cocaine and an increasing share of heroine. The FARC and other Colombian guerrilla and paramilitary groups have become increasingly involved in narco-trafficking, and their agendas therefore collide with U.S. counter-narcotics interests. Given the terrorist tactics favored by these groups, the White House should be ever-vigilant of where this collision will lead. Another threat is the FARC's predilection for spreading its sphere of influence and wealth, and its interest in exporting instability. The Peruvian government has already voiced concern over Colombian narco-terrorists' efforts to reinvigorate once-dreaded guerrilla groups in their country and provide these groups with poppy for heroine production. ...

Given this scourge of violence, the White House must press Colombian President Andres Pastrana to acknowledge the narco-trafficking of guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Surely, President Bush doesn't want to see the FARC's blight to spread in the region.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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