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Geneva Conventions must be clarified on terrorism: State Dept. legal adviser

[JURIST] US State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger III [official profile] Tuesday called [transcript] for the international community to "clarify" Geneva Convention [ICRC materials; JURIST news archive] rules pertaining to treatment of detained terror suspects. Speaking to reporters at an International Committee of the Red Cross meeting, Bellinger said:

Critics have suggested that [...] the United States is backing away from the Geneva Conventions or ignoring them, and I want to be crystal clear, the United States remains absolutely committed to the Geneva Conventions, reaffirms them. We support them, we apply them. But one does have to read what they say. They do not apply to every situation. They in fact apply to conflicts between states. So therefore the Geneva Conventions do not give you the answers about who can be held in a conflict with a non-state actor. They do not tell you how long you can hold someone in a conflict with a non-state actor. They do not tell you what countries to return people to. In a normal conflict where one is fighting one or maybe two countries, at the end of the conflict you return the combatants to those countries. In fighting al-Qaida we've found that we have detained individuals from more than two dozen countries around the world. The Geneva Conventions do not provide answers to those questions so they don't provide sufficient guidance to countries as to what law to apply.

The United States is firmly committed to the law that applies. We're also committed to working with other countries around the world to develop new legal norms in cases where existing law does not give one the answers. But what we do think is problematic is to simply suggest that the Geneva Conventions provide all of the answers in fighting international terrorism, and that countries simply need to follow the Geneva Conventions and that is the end of the matter.
Bellinger also reaffirmed US opposition to torture, citing the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST document] and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text] as signs of continued evolution of national anti-torture law.

Bellinger also announced plans to work with new Attorney General Michael Mukasey [WH profile; JURIST news archive] on a legal review of interrogation procedures including waterboarding [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.

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