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War crimes create an obligation on any state to prosecute the alleged perpetrators or turn them over to another state for prosecution. Even persons who are not entitled to the protections of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (such as some detainees from third countries) are protected by the "fundamental guarantees" of article of the 1977 to the Geneva Conventions – long accepted by the United States as customary law.
1992: The latest edition of Army's FIELD MANUAL 34-52 (pdf file 14.4 MB) is published. It includes rules governing interrogations by US Military.
It unequivocally states that binding international treaties and
U.S. policy "expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation,
including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure
to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation. Such
illegal acts are not authorized and will not be condoned by the
The Manual specifically defines "physical torture" to include "infliction of pain through chemicals or bondage," "forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time," "food deprivation," and "any form of beating."
The Manual, moreover, admonishes that "[r]evelation of use of torture by U.S. personnel will bring discredit upon the U.S. and its armed forces while undermining domestic and international support for the war effort. It also may place U.S. and allied personnel in enemy hands at a greater risk of abuse by their captors. Conversely, knowing the enemy has abused U.S. and allied [prisoners of war] does not justify using methods of interrogation specifically prohibited by [international law] and U.S. policy."
September 11, 2001: Four American passenger planes are hijacked by 19 members of the Al Qaeda terrorist group. Two of the planes are flown into the World Trade Centers in New York; one crashes into a wing of the Pentagon in Washington and the fourth crashes into a farmer's field in Pennsylvania.
September 16, 2001: Vice-President Cheney says U.S. will use "any means at our disposal" in its war on terror. Read his speech.
In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press , Cheney says that in the post-9/11 era the American government must "work through, sort of, the dark side." He continues: "We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."
October 7, 2001: The US attacks Afghanistan where the fundamentalist Taliban regime is believed to be giving refuge to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The attack is the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.
November 13, 2001: President Bush authorizes military tribunals.
The President's executive order states:
"Given the danger to the safety of the United States and the nature of international terrorism … I find consistent with section 836 of title 10, United States Code, that it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts."
The order allows the military to detain non-U.S. citizens whom the President determines "has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of international terrorism" or those who have "knowingly harbored" terrorists. Suspects must be "treated humanely," "afforded adequate food, drinking water, shelter, clothing, and medical treatment," and "allowed the free exercise of religion."
December 2001: Mohammed Al Qahtani, a Saudi national, is captured along the Aghanistan-Pakistan border. In August 2002, he is identified as the 20th hijacker. CONTINUED...