DOS Memo from William H. Taft to Secretary of State Powell re: Photographing POWs and the Geneva Conventions

DOS Memo from William H. Taft to Secretary of State Powell re: Photographing POWs and the Geneva Conventions. Summary redacted. Discussion explores the US position on photographing and/or releasing photographs of POWs.

Doc_type: 
Non-legal Memo
Doc_date: 
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Doc_rel_date: 
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Doc_text: 

UNCLASSIFIED2200307265
United States Department of State
;Tie:shine:ton, D.C. 20520

RELEASED IN PART
B5

March 26, 2003

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM
UNCLASSIFIED
TO:TThe Secretary

FROM:TIV

L -William Howard Taft,
vwci - Pierre-Richard Prosper

SUBJECT: Photographing POWs and the Geneva:Conventions
Summary
B5

Discussion

B5

UNCLASSIFIED

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DOS-001362
REVIEW AUTHORITY: CHARLES E LAHIGUERA
DATE/CASE ID: 03 DEC 2004 200303827 UNCLASSIFIED
B5

Writing in the Independent yesterday, Sir Adam Roberts of Oxford (one of the leading law of war scholars) points out that there is no general or unambiguous answer to the question of whether all photographs are prohibited. He correctly points out that "the actual practice seen in modern war may be the best guide. If a practice is accepted by. other states it may come to be considered legal. Experience shows that there is seldom any rooted objection to the publication of photos showing a crowd of soldiers in the act of surrender, especially if the soldiers are not individually identifiable. Some pictures of Iraqi-soldiers surrendering, published in the last few days, have fitted this pattern and have caused little comment."
In addition to the practice of States, the ICRC has had a major influence of interpreting Article 13. During the 1991 Gulf War, it took rather rigid positions on photographing POWs and the United States took exception to some of the interpretations. In recent years, however, the ICRC has been less legalistic and has focussed on preserving the integrity and dignity of individuals under detention.' The ICRC is generally of the view that Article 13 requires parties to a conflict to avoid publication of images that show prisoners of war in degrading or humiliating positions or allow the identification of individual POWs (especially since there could be retribution against the families of individuals who surrender or are captured). The ICRC can be expected to
protest images of POWs kneeling, being held in restraints
or being mistreated in any way.

UNCLASSIFIED

- 3 -
The United States has traditionally protested acts
such as the-parading of American POWs (as in Hanoi in 1966)
or exposing POWs on television. For example, President
George Bush described the "brutal parading" of Allied
pilots by Iraq in January 1991 as a violation of-the Geneva
Conventions. In a formal protest, the United States stated
that ". . . unlawful coercion and misuse of prisoners of
war for propaganda purposes, the failure to respect their
honor and well-being, and the subjection of such
individuals to public humiliation" were violations of the
Geneva Conventions. The United States has also protest:ea'
about the treatment of American POWs in connection with the
Kosovo air campaign and of course the recent events in
Iraq.

However, the United States is at times accused of
violating Article 13, in particular in connection with
Guantanamo. Several photographs were published of the in­processing of the detainees. These photos displayed
detainees kneeling with heads lowered, blindfolded and
restrained. Subsequently, there were many press-originated
photos taken from a distance: An airman on board a
transport plane also took unauthorized pictures that were
later circulated widely on the Internet and picked up by
the press.

After the strong international criticism of the
Guantanamo photographs, DOD issued specific guidelines on
the kind of photographs that would be permitted./

TThe Guantanamo
guidelines state that "the policy of limiting photography
is in accord with treating detainees consistent with the
principles of the Geneva Conventions. This is not a change
in policy; it is in conformity with long-standing U.S.
policy, procedure, and practice."

Similar guidelines have been issued in connection with
embedded news media and the conflict in Iraq. They provide
that "no photographs or other visual media showing an enemy
prisoner of war or detainee's recognizable face, nametag or
other identifying feature or item may•be taken.". It also
prohibits "still or video imagery of custody operations or
interviews with persons under custody."

UNCLASSIFIED
U.S. military regulations generally prohibit "group,
wide area or aerial photographs" of POWs or POW facilities
unless authorized by an appropriate military commander.

Finally, it should be noted that some of the families
of captured POWs have in the past commented that at least
the photographs have shown that their loved ones were still
alive and thus that making public the photographs has some
value in some circumstances. It also puts pressure on Iraq

• -- -to-preserve -their well-being.I

UNCLASSIFIED
ECummings4:-.4-4-
Doc. 110251T

Draft: L/NPT

x-1294

Clearances: L/PM - JDolan/JDorosin
S/WCI - RMiller
US Mission Geneva - SSolomon

UNCLASSIFIED

Doc_nid: 
6266
Doc_type_num: 
63