Spoilt image

For more than seven decades, civilised nations have adhered to minimum standards of decent behaviour toward prisoners of war — agreed to in the Geneva Conventions. They were respected by 12 US presidents and generations of military leaders because they reflected US’s principles. It took the Bush administration to make the world doubt Washington’s fidelity to the rules. And The Los Angeles Times, reporting on a dispute over updating the Army rulebook known as the Field Manual, reminded us that there is good reason to worry.

At issue is Directive 2310 on the treatment and questioning of prisoners. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention prohibits the use of torture and other overt acts of violence. But Bush’s civilian lawyers removed it from the military rulebook over the objections of diplomats and military lawyers. Bush has said he does not condone torture, but he has also said he would decide for himself when to follow the ban on torture imposed by Congress last year. Removing the Geneva Conventions from Army regulations gives the world more cause for doubt. It defies belief that this administration is still clinging to its benighted policies on prisoners after the horrors of Abu Ghraib, killings at US camps in Afghanistan and the outrage over what appears to have been the massacre of Iraqis in Haditha. — The New York Times