There’s an interesting wrinkle in the Obama administration’s decision to hold and interrogate Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame (a Somali with ties to al Qaeda) for two months on a US Navy ship. It sounds as though the president should have sought legal advice first:
There is one rule that the White House and the Defense Department seem to have overlooked in this inconvenient instance. It is the rule that flatly forbids holding prisoners captured in war in any locale other than “on land”—a rule with a history that stems from the American Revolution itself, when rebellious Americans caught by the British were interned in the death-dealing conditions of British prison ships hulking in New York harbor.
While the healthy conditions of the U.S.S Boxer might seem the exception that a situational rule should permit, the norm in the Third Geneva Convention is absolute on its face—namely, as Article 22 states, “prisoners of war may be interned only in premises located on land.” President Obama could now be ready to admit that al Qaeda combatants are not, as such, fully privileged prisoners of war, but rather unlawful combatants. Nonetheless, the avoidance of incarceration at sea is part of the fundamental protections of Geneva, rather than its privileges.