06 Jan Lessons from America’s Longest Held Prisoner of War
In an isolated prison cell in the middle of the compound of the Federal Correctional Institute in
In reaching this conclusion, the court relied explicitly and extensively on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the Third Geneva Convention. This reliance reflected recognition of the value and the authority of this interpretive aid, so well understood by international law experts and practitioners.
Judge Hoeveler also addressed the government argument that it was not necessary to decide whether General Noriega was a prisoner of war because he would, as a matter of policy, be treated consistent with that status. The court rejected this argument, and noted the invalidity of attempting to substitute legal determinations with policy application:
The government’s position provides no assurances that the government will not at some point in the future decide that Noriega is not a POW, and therefore not entitled to the protections of Geneva III. This would seem to be just the type of situation Geneva III was designed to protect against.
The limit of policy to resolve issues related to the law of war seems particularly significant today. Even in the most complex operational environment, it is critical for the government to make a timely conflict classification decision in order to establish the legal foundation to control operational execution. Policy then becomes a useful tool to address issues not covered by the applicable law. But when