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Homeland Security

11 July 2006

Geneva Conventions Will Apply to Detainees, U.S. Official Says

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on military commissions processes begin

Washington – Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England has ordered Defense Department personnel to treat detainees from the War on Terror in accordance with guidelines established by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

In a Pentagon memo issued July 7, England requested that staff "promptly review all relevant directives, regulations, policies, practices and procedures under your purview to ensure that they comply with the standards of Common Article 3."

Common Article 3 states that detainees must be treated humanely and be afforded the same judicial guarantees "which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court said military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees were unconstitutional because they violated this article of the Geneva Conventions. (See related article.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee July 11 held the first of what likely will be many congressional hearings about how to develop a constitutional process for trying detainees in light of the court's decision.

The Supreme Court ruling "gives Congress and the administration a clear opportunity to work together to address the matters raised by the case, including the appropriate procedures governing military commissions," Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel told the lawmakers. These procedures include determining how to use hearsay evidence and classified information at a trial, Bradbury said.

Trying al-Qaida members by the same procedures used by courts-martial is not required by the Constitution and would risk revealing sensitive intelligence sources and methods, Bradbury said.

Principal Deputy Counsel for the Defense Department Daniel Dell'Orto, also testifying before the committee, said military commissions, rather than courts-martial, are the preferred way to try detainees. "Full application of court-martial rules would force the government either to drop prosecutions or to disclose intelligence information to our enemies in such a way as to compromise ongoing or future military operations," Dell'Orto said, adding that "military necessity demands a better way."

The use of U.S. military tribunals dates back to the days of George Washington, Dell'Orto said.

Aside from military commission procedures, existing Department of Defense orders, policies and directives already comply with Common Article 3 standards, England said in his memo

The testimonies of Bradbury and Dell'Orto are available on the Senate Judiciary Committee Web site.

For additional information, see Detainee Issues.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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