Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer / The Guardian – 2006-04-03 23:16:00
UK Defence Secretary Calls for Geneva Conventions To Be Redrawn
Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer / The Guardian
LONDON (April 4, 2006) — John Reid demanded sweeping changes to international law yesterday to free British soldiers from the restraints of the Geneva conventions and make it easier for the west to mount military actions against other states.
In his speech, the defence secretary addressed three key issues: the treatment of prisoners, when to mount a pre-emptive strikes, and when to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis. In all these areas, he indicated that the UK and west was being hamstrung by existing inadequate law.
Mr Reid indicated he believed existing rules, including some of the conventions – a bedrock of international law – were out of date and inadequate to deal with the threat of international terrorists.
“We are finding an enemy which obeys no rules whatsoever”, he said, referring to what he called “barbaric terrorism”.
The conventions, he said, were created more than half century ago “when the world was almost unrecognisable”. They dealt with how the sick and injured and how prisoners of war were treated, “and the obligations on states during their military occupation of another state”, he said.
Given the big changes undertaken by the military over the past 50 years, he added, “serious questions” must be asked about whether “further changes in international law in this area are necessary”.
Mr Reid declined to say whether he had come round to the US view that detainees at Guantánamo bay should not be allowed the protection of the conventions or the courts. Similarly, he would not say if he thought Britain should support the US practice of extraordinary rendition, the transferring of prisoners to secret camps where they risk being tortured. However, he said, it was not “sufficient just to say [Guantánamo] is wrong”.
Mr Reid said yesterday that while domestic laws had been introduced to deal with new threats — he referred to the new offence of “glorifying terrorism” — international law had not changed.
He also spoke of the “concept of imminence” — the circumstances when a state could strike without waiting for an attack.
It was a principal issue during the debate over the invasion of Iraq and has clear implications for any possible future action against Iran.
Mr Reid noted that last year Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, advised that force could be used only against imminent attack, that it must only be used as a last resort, and that it must be proportionate.
“But what if another threat develops?”, Mr Reid asked. “Not al-Qaida. Not Muslim extremism. Something none of us are thinking about at the moment.” Terrorist groups were trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, he said.
The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, said: “After the disaster of Iraq, the idea that the doctrine of pre-emptive strike should be expanded will be met with incredulity in the west and alarm in the ministries of Tehran.”
Sir Adam Roberts, professor of international relations at Oxford University, said: “Some of the biggest coalition problems in both Afghanistan and Iraq have come from failures of the coalition to observe basic norms on certain matters, especially with regard to treatment of prisoners.
“Dr Reid is certainly right to raise the question of whether we need new rules in face of imminent attack. This problem above all requires confidence in government and coalition decision-making processes – confidence that has sadly been undermined by Iraq.”
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Iraq Accuses US of Damaging Ancient City
BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 31, 2006) — American forces are damaging the ancient city of Kish and must withdraw from the 5,000-year-old archaeological site, an Iraqi ministry said Thursday.
The Ministry of State for Tourism and Antiquities Affairs said US forces had set up a camp in Kish, near Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
In a statement, the ministry said the US military was preventing anyone from entering this important archaeological site to assess the damage, which was not specified.
The US military had no immediate comment.
Last year, the British Museum said that US-led troops using the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon as a base had damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the world’s most important ancient sites.
The US military then said all earth moving had been halted and that all engineering work were discussed with the head of the Babylon museum.
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