Last week I took part in a BBC radio programme (“Iconoclasts”) debating whether the Geneva Conventions should apply to the war against terrorism. The programme (which can be heard by clicking here) addressed three issues:
- Do the Geneva Conventions apply to ‘the war on terror’?- What is the difference between ‘tough interrogation’ and torture?- If the Geneva Conventions needs updating or replacing, what should the new rules be?
The Iconoclast in the programme was Charlie Wolf, an American radio presenter and commentator based in the UK. He was formerly communications director of Republicans Abroad UK. In the programme, he took a similar position to that first taken by the Bush Administration after September 11, i.e. that the”war on terror” was not within the contemplation of the drafters of the Geneva Convention and that the terrorists did not deserve the protections of the Geneva Convention as they did not respect them. These issues were addressed by the US Supreme Court in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld when it ruled that at least one provision of the Geneva Conventions, namely Common Article 3, applies to the US conflict with Al Qaeda. After that case, the Bush Administration changed its position and argued that it was engaged in a non-international armed conflict with Al Qaeda to which the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in non-international conflicts applied. Of course, there is a broader question as to whether it can be properly argued that there is a global war on terror or even a global war with Al Qaeda which qualifies as an armed conflict under international law.
My co-panelists in the programme, in addition to Charlie Wolf, were Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian Newspaper’s Security Editor and Robert Barnidge Jr who teaches international law at the University of Reading in the UK.