Seems I hit a nerve with my post about Gov. Ritter's collision with international law if Gitmo prisoners are moved to Colorado SuperMax. Indignant comments by Bill Menezes on this site and at PoliticsWest.com claimed I'm all wet. But his objections shatter on the clear text of the Geneva Conventions and relevant case law. His attempt to obfuscate salient facts with irrelevant minutiae fails the test of common sense, as well as established national and international legal precedent.
As mentioned in my original post, the salient fact is the prohibition on internment of combatant detainees (both actual prisoners of war and “unlawful combatants” – more on that later) in civilian penitentiaries.
In the operative provision, Menezes puts undue weight on the qualifying language before the comma: "Except in particular cases which are justified by the interest of the prisoners themselves, they shall not be interned in penitentiaries."
Common sense will inform the reader that the “particular cases” exception to the general rule is applied to individual detainees who are, for whatever reason (generally certain medical conditions, threats from fellow prisoners, or conviction of a civil crime in addition to their combatant detention status) better served or cared for in a civilian facility. Note that this exception is expressly in the interest of the prisoners themselves, not for the convenience or political benefit of the detaining power.
However, since common sense appears to be in general short supply, there is also an established body of case law and the commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that applies:
“Internment of prisoners of war in [p.183] penitentiaries is in principle prohibited because of the painful psychological impressions which such places might create for prisoners of war.” Citation here.
So in summary: The facts of international law and treaty (Geneva Convention III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) and our obligations under those laws (and U.S. statute) are clear: persons falling under military jurisdiction as prisoners (irrespective of their combatant status) are NOT to be detained in civilian penitentiaries as a matter of policy.
Some exceptions MAY be made on a case-by-case basis, in the interest of the prisoners themselves, but in practice and precedent this is applied VERY restrictively. Ergo, Governor Ritter’s proposal to bring detainees from Guantanamo en masse to Colorado’s civilian SuperMax prison would in fact violate international law and our treaty obligations.
PS - The non-functioning link correctly pointed out by Bill in the original post has now been corrected. We apologize for the typo. The link goes to the Yale University Law Library’s “Avalon Project” – a superb resource and reference for documents on international law.