Ellen Glasgow (1873–1945) Written in 1944, near the end of World War II.
Should the Geneva Conventions be changed to reflect terrorist acts? Absolutely.
Should President George Bush make the request to countenance such a change? Absolutely not.
There is no one "Geneva Convention." Like any other body of law, the laws of war have been assembled piecemeal, and are, in fact, still under construction as full of holes as the cheese made there. The first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864 to protect the sick and wounded in war time. This first Geneva Convention was inspired by Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, and it represented the first treaty of international humanitarian law. Further emendations included the 1899 treaties, concerning asphyxiating gases and expanding bullets which also expanded the Conventions to war at sea. In 1907, 13 separate treaties were signed, doing such things as determining categories of combatants. Then in 1925 came the Geneva Gas Protocol, which prohibited the use of poison gas and the practice of bacteriological warfare. In 1929, two more Geneva Conventions dealt with the treatment of the wounded and prisoners of war. In 1949, four Geneva Conventions extended protections to those shipwrecked at sea and to civilians.
It is interesting to note that the Geneva Conventions have followed, rather than anticipated, acts of war. For instance, bans on poison gas were not in place until 1925, after the mustard gas of WWI, and protections for civilians were not in place until 1949, after the bombings of London, Dresden and Hiroshima. So, it makes sense to examine the Geneva conventions now, five years after 9/11, to determine how terrorists should be treated.
Who considers themselves bound by the Geneva conventions? The United States does, as do most nations in the world. Sudan and Rwanda are signatories, but that does not seem to influence their internal behaviour. The Palestinian Authority sent a letter offering to abide by the conventions, but it has been in UN limbo since 1989, while the UN tries to decide the existence or non-existence of a state of Palestine.
And that is the crux. Only states can be signatories, not organizations. Hence, Al Quida and Hezbollah are not, and judging by the experience of the Palestinian Authority, cannot be signatories. Thus, they enjoy no sanction for not abiding by conventions of which they cannot be a part. Yet they are our enemies. Enemies who behead captured civilians with knives for television cameras chanting 'Allah Akbar!' What 'category' decided in the gentlemanly days following WWI do such combatants fall into?
The Supreme Court decided that terrorists are entitled to be treated in accordance with the chivalric Geneva Conventions, which makes it imperative to change the Conventions themselves to regulate modern, stateless, warfare. It is a difficult job. It is also one which cannot be undertaken by George Bush. The President took a historic step in declaring that whatever the world community might think, he would be concerned first and foremost with the safety and welfare of the United States. It was entirely proper for him to do this, but it has robbed him of the ability to ask other nations to join in a cooperative effort to change the laws of warfare now.
The rest of the world signatories, equally in danger from these guerilla terrorists, must now take the necessary steps to authorize action against quasi-civilian combatants. It is as much their fight as ours, no matter how deeply they stuff their heads into the sand.