Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Re-Writing the Rule Book

John C. Yoo, a law professor who was an aide in the U.S. Department of Justice from 2001 to 2003, worked on the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism policy as it applies to the Geneva Conventions. In "Perspectives on the Rules of War," in the San Francisco Chronicle, he outlines how, as he sees it, why the rules must change:

[A]l Qaeda also does not fall into the traditional category of interstate war. Our previous struggles have come from nations, such as the Soviet Union, Germany and Japan. They all fielded armed forces, defended territory and protected civilian populations. Al Qaeda is an organization with covert cells of operatives who hide among civilians. It has no territory to defend, no population to protect, no infrastructure or armies in the field to attack. Its primary goal -- to target and kill large numbers of civilians --

violates the very core purpose of the laws of war to spare civilian life and limit combat to armies. Because it is interested only in killing civilians, systematically violates the laws of war and is not a state, al Qaeda should not receive the normal prisoner-of-war protections that are reserved only for national armed forces.

It is only appropriate that we have a public debate about the rules to confront terrorism, even if spurred by the leaking of classified information. But we should also realize that claims of violations of human-rights law or the Constitution must be evaluated in the context of the realities created by Sept. 11.