Gonzales Backtracks on Geneva Convention

Via American Progress and Daily Kos:

GONZALES SAYS ADMINISTRATION IS A 'STRONG SUPPORTER OF GENEVA CONVENTIONS: "At the same time, President Bush recognized that our nation will continue to be a strong supporter of the Geneva treaties. The president also reaffirmed our policy in the United States armed forces to treat Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in keeping with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention."
- Alberto Gonzales, 5/15/04 (NYT Op-Ed)


GONZALES SAYS GENEVA RESTRICTIONS ARE OBSOLETE: "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians...In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
- Alberto Gonzales, 1/25/02 (Memorandum to the President, as reported in Newsweek 5/16/04)

Unless we're thinking about a different memo, the memo from Gonzales was leaked and written about extensively in the mainstream media in early 2002, as was Colin Powell's disagreement with the Administration's intention to withhold Geneva Convention protections from Taliban fighters as well as al Qaeda. There are 59 news articles on Lexis.com discussing the memo between 1/28/02 and 2//8/02.

We're not sure why Newsweek thinks this is a scoop. Originally, Bush was considering withholding the Geneva protections from both the Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees. Gonzales agreed with that approach but wrote Bush a memo in which he advised Bush that Colin Powell disagreed with the policy:

2/8/02 New York Times:

"President Bush today has decided that the Geneva Convention will apply to the Taliban detainees but not to the Al Qaeda international terrorists," Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said in announcing the decision. He said that although the United States did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, Afghanistan was still a party to the convention. Al Qaeda, he said, is an international terrorist group, not a party to the treaty and therefore undeserving of inclusion.

....The announcement ended an internal legal debate in the administration that spilled into public view two weeks ago with the release of a memorandum by the White House counsel indicating that Mr. Bush had already decided, perhaps hastily, that the convention did not apply to either the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Secretary Powell strongly disagreed with that opinion and sought a review that led to two formal discussions among members of Mr. Bush's national security team on Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Secretary Powell won over Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, largely on the premise that American soldiers needed Geneva protection, and it was that view that prevailed today. On the other side were Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. Officials said that Secretary Powell had actually sought Geneva protection for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and that Mr. Bush took the middle position.

The Sunday Herald (1/27/02), quoting from the memo:

In a memo to the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales says that most, if not all, members of the president's national security team are urging him not to retreat. Gonzales writes: "On balance, I believe that the arguments for reconsideration and reversal (of the prisoners' status) are unpersuasive. The Taliban and its forces were, in fact, not a government, but a militant, terrorist-like group."

Powell's fear that US soldiers in future will not be accorded POW status if America does not respect the Geneva Convention is dismissed by the lawyer. Noting that the president has called the war on terrorism "a new kind of war" Gonzales wrote: "This new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments."

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