War Crimes Act of 1996

War Crimes Act of 1996

The War Crimes Act of 1996 was passed with overwhelming majorities by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The law defines a war crime to include a "grave breach of the Geneva Conventions", specifically noting that "grave breach" should have the meaning defined in any convention (related to the laws of war) to which the U.S. is a party. The definition of "grave breach" in some of the Geneva Conventions have text that extend additional protections, but all the Conventions share the following text in common: "... committed against persons or property protected by the Convention: willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health."

The law applies if either the victim or the perpetrator is a national of the United States or a member of the U.S. armed forces. The penalty may be life imprisonment or death. The death penalty is only invoked if the conduct resulted in the death of one or more victims.

Legislative history

The law criminalized breaches of the Geneva Conventions so that the United States could prosecute war criminals, specifically North Vietnamese soldiers who tortured U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense "fully support [ed] the purposes of the bill,"cite news | first = R. Jeffrey | last = Smith | authorlink = R. Jeffrey Smith | title = Detainee Abuse Charges Feared | url = http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/27/AR2006072701908_pf.html | work = Washington Post | page = A1 | date = 2006-07-28 | accessdate = 2006-10-04] recommending that it be expanded to include a longer list of war crimes. Because the United States generally followed the Conventions, the military recommended making breaches by U.S. soldiers war crimes as well "because doing so set a high standard for others to follow." The bill passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a voice vote in the House, showing that it was entirely uncontroversial at the time.

Ten years later, the United States Supreme Court ruled in "Hamdan v. Rumsfeld" ( Findlaw_us|000|05-184 ) that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applied to the War on Terrorism, with the unstated implication that any interrogation techniques that violated Common Article 3 constituted War Crimes. [cite web | url = http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0630-27.htm | title = Did Bush Commit War Crimes? | accessdate = 2006-10-04 | last = Brooks | first = Rosa | authorlink = Rosa Brooks | date = 2006-06-30 | work = Los Angeles Times | quote = In other words, with the Hamdan decision, U.S. officials found to be responsible for subjecting war on terror detainees to torture, cruel treatment or other 'outrages upon personal dignity' could face prison or even the death penalty.] The possibility that American officials and soldiers could be prosecuted for war crimes for committing the "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" [cite web | url = http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/91.htm | title = Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War | accessdate = 2006-10-04 | author = Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War | date = 1949-08-12 | publisher = United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | page = I, a. 3, 1(c)] prohibited by the Conventions led to a series of proposals to make such actions legal in certain circumstances, which resulted in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Potential application

White House officials were concerned that they and other U.S. officials could be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act for the U.S. treatment of detainees after 9/11 for violations of the Geneva Conventions. In a January 2002 memorandum to the president, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales authored a controversial memo in January 2002 that explored whether Article III of the Geneva Convention applied to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan and held in detention facilities around the world, including Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The memo made several arguments both for and against providing Article III protection to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. He concluded that Article III was outdated and ill-suited for dealing with captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. He described as "quaint" the provisions that require providing captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters "commissary privileges, scrip, athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments". He also argued that existing military regulations and instructions from the President were more than adequate to ensure that the principles of the Geneva Convention would be applied. He also argued that undefined language in the Geneva Convention, such as "outrages upon personal dignity" and "inhuman treatment", could make officials and military leaders subject to the War Crimes Act of 1996 if mistreatment was discovered. [Gonzales, Alberto. [http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4999148/site/newsweek/ Decision Re Application of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War to the Conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban] , Memorandum for the President, January 25, 2002. (PDF file provided by MSNBC/Newsweek)]

The adoption of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, defined in Section 6 of the act grave abuses of Common Article 3 to only include torture, cruel or inhumane treatment, murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily harm, rape, sexual assault or abuse, and the taking of hostages, thereby limiting the scope of the original law.

ee also

*Command responsibility
*Nuremberg Trials


External links

* [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c104:H.R.3680: Federal Law 18 USC Sec. 2441] known as the "War Crimes Act"
* [http://assembler.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/2441.html US Code, Part I, Title 18, Chapter 118, section 2441]
* [http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/warcrimes091906.html JustForeignPolicy.org petition] posted in September 2006 asking visitors to help protect the War Crimes Act from repeal

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • War Crimes Act — There are two acts known as the War Crimes Act *War Crimes Act 1991 of the United Kingdom *War Crimes Act of 1996 of the United States *Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act of Canada …   Wikipedia

  • WAR CRIMES TRIALS — Crystallization of the Principles of International Criminal Law Immediately after the outbreak of World War II, when the first Nazi violations of the laws and customs of war as defined by the Hague and Geneva Conventions were revealed (and in… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Crimes Act — Contents 1 List 1.1 Australia 1.1.1 Federal legislation 1.1.2 …   Wikipedia

  • Japanese war crimes — occurred during the period of Japanese imperialism. Some of the incidents have also been described as an Asian Holocaustcite news| first=Ralph |last=Blumenthal |title=The World: Revisiting World War II Atrocities; Comparing the Unspeakable to the …   Wikipedia

  • Possible war crimes in the 2006 Lebanon War — Main article: 2006 Lebanon War Various groups and individuals, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and United Nations officials, accused both Israel and Hezbollah of violating international humanitarian law during the 2006… …   Wikipedia

  • Second Chechen War crimes and terrorism — The article details notable human rights violations committed by the warring sides of the ongoing second war in Chechnya. Russian officials and Chechen rebels have been regularly and repeatedly accused of committing various war crimes including… …   Wikipedia

  • War in Afghanistan (2001–present) — War in Afghanistan Part of the Afghan civil war and the War on Terror …   Wikipedia

  • War rape — describes rape committed by soldiers, other combatants or civilians during armed conflict or war. Rape in the course of war dates back to antiquity, ancient enough to have been mentioned in the Bible. During war and armed conflict rape is… …   Wikipedia

  • war crime — n: an act committed usu. during an international war for which individual criminal liability will be imposed by a domestic or international tribunal; specif: a violation of the laws or customs of war as embodied or recognized by international… …   Law dictionary

  • War on Terror — Guerre contre le terrorisme La « guerre contre le terrorisme » ou « guerre contre la terreur » (« War on Terrorism », « War on Terror » ou « Global War on Terror », (GWOT)) est un concept… …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”