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Obama Admin Defends Iran: No Geneva Convention Violation


The Obama administration announced on Thursday that Iran had not violated the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war when it published photographs of captured U.S. Navy sailors, forced them to appear on television and make an apology for the circumstances of their capture, and compelled a female sailor to wear a hijab (head covering).

Under Article 13 of the Geneva Convention, prisoners must not be subjected to “insults and public curiosity.”  Under Article 14, they must be treated with honor, and female prisoners must not suffer worse treatment.


On Wednesday, the State Department would not say if Iran had violated the Convention, but on Thursday, spokesperson John Kirby said definitively that it had not.

“…[T]he Geneva Convention applies for wartime,” Kirby said. “We’re not at war with Iran, so it’s a moot question….I’m not a lawyer, but it’s very clear, if you read the conventions, they are for wartime, and we’re not at war with Iran.”

Kirby is wrong, as the text of the Geneva Convention makes clear.

Article 1 says: “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.” The phrase “all circumstances” applies to peacetime as well as war, as noted by Article 2.

Article 2 states clearly: “In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”

Article 5 notes: “Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.”

So the Geneva Convention–to which Iran and the U.S. are both parties–applies, at least partly, to peacetime, and to conflicts that fall short of declared war. Furthermore, it applies even in the presence of doubts as to whether prisoners qualify for its protections, until the status of those prisoners can be determined by a court.

Clearly, the U.S Navy sailors that Iran captured–and abused–came under the protections of the Geneva Convention. Kirby, and Obama, are wrong.

Ironically, President Obama made adherence to the Geneva Convention a cornerstone of his foreign policy. In a speech in 2007, candidate Obama promised: “As President, I will…adhere to the Geneva Conventions.” In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, President Obama declared: “…I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.”

What Obama meant, however, was that he would uphold the Geneva Convention for terrorists, who are illegal combatants and are explicitly not covered by the convention.

On the very same day that his administration told Americans that the Geneva Convention did not apply to sailors captured by Iran, Obama freed ten dangerous Guantánamo Bay terror detainees to Oman.

Americans, in Obama’s view, do not deserve the same rights as terrorists.

This article has been updated.

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