An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.
Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.
Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks. [emphasis mine]
I think officials is the key word in this passage, quite a few of which work at the Pentagon with a smaller number working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps the bill should be called the Save Dick Cheney's, Donald Rumsfeld's, Stephen Hadley's et al Act because these are the people Gonzales is talking about protecting.
The bill will be pushed as a tool necessary for protecting our troop in the War on Terror, but this legislation doesn't have squat to do with the troops. Indeed, if it did, where was it when Lindsey England and the rest of the Abu Ghraib bad apples were prosecuted and incarcerated, and if passed would this legislation exonerate them? Highly doubtful, though I bet their lawyers are itching to give it a shot.
This is simply a get out of jail free card for the administration. It will be interesting to see which republicans who voted for the War Crimes Act in 1996 will now vote for exemptions now that a republican sits in the Oval Office.