Nuremberg Judgments in Baghdad

When American troops were captured in Iraq, President Bush said that he expects them to be treated humanely. "If not," the President warned, "the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

President Bush's remarks drove home the importance of strict adherence to the Geneva Conventions and the question of how war crimes trials may be convened in post-war Iraq and who will conduct them. The US plan for war crimes trials covers violations committed before the current conflict began. American officials recently released a list of Iraqis who would face trial for past crimes.

The American military takes the Geneva Conventions seriously. The main provisions of the Conventions are repeated in the rules of combat of the US armed services. Similar rules to govern the conduct of the United States Army during the Civil War have guided the American military since 1863, when a code of 159 articles was drafted by Francis Lieber, a German immigrant who became a professor of law at Columbia University.

Among the reasons the American military is committed to respect for the Geneva Conventions is a concern about reciprocity. By treating others properly, American forces strengthen their argument that they themselves should be dealt with in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.