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What Are the Geneva Conventions?

The Geneva Conventions are four treaties which were first drafted in Geneva, Switzerland under the inspiration of Henri Dunant, the founder of the American Red Cross, to provide treatment for sick and injured prisoners during war time. Since their inception, additional treaties have been signed to further expand upon those initial agreements and the conventions themselves have been ratified in 194 countries – nearly every country in the world.
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They are considered to be a system of protocols which are instrumental in the protection of prisoners of war.

There are four defined conventions and two protocols as follows:

Convention I
For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field.

Convention II
For the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea.

Convention III
Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva.

Convention IV
Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva.

Protocol I
Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.

Protocol II
Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Proection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.



A wide array of other treaties have been signed and amended into the conventions to cover other issues, such as the International Treaty on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

It’s important to understand what the conventions are and what they are not in order to formulate a learned opinion as regards the application of the conventions to terrorists, and why this is an important issue today. In the last months, President Bush and his administration have come under fire as regards the interpretation of these conventions. It is relevant to understand that terrorists are not considered to be either soldiers or prisoners of war, and as such, have no specific protections offered by the Geneva Conventions themselves under the legal applications thereof.

The arguable problem is in defining who or what a ‘terrorist’ is. The United States military currently holds an undefined number of detainees across the world in intelligence attempts to identify terrorism threats, and considers this operation crucial to the current war on terrorism.

According to the TRAC report, since 09/11/01, 6,472 individuals have been classified as terrorists. A person classified as a terrorist does not have to be charged with crimes involving "terrorism." Instead, the suspect can be indicted under a wide range of different laws, and according to their own statistics, the number one charge currently used in detainment is ‘Fraud or false statements generally’. Other charges listed include Mail Fraud (18 USC 1341) and Laundering Money (18 USC 1956)

Important philosophical issues abound in every direction as to the justification of this sort of abstract power of any government, however when it comes to whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply, or why they are or are not relevant to the argument as regards the war on terrorism, it is at the least good to be well informed before forming a consensus.

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