How to help the POWs

January 23, 1991|By Newsday

AS SOON as Iraq captured a dozen allied fliers, Saddam Hussein wasted no time in extracting phony denunciations of the war from them and announcing they would be used as human shields to protect strategically valuable installations.

Reprehensible behavior of that sort is proscribed under international accords governing the treatment of prisoners of war. And yes, Iraq signed those accords. But expecting Hussein to treat prisoners by Geneva Convention rules is a bit like asking a mugger to take your money but at least return your driver's license and the pictures of the kids. He should, but it's not likely.

Is there any recourse? Well, sort of, but don't hold your breath. The last time anyone was tried for crimes against prisoners of war was at the Nuremberg tribunals after World War II. And that predates the last version of prisoner-of-war rules drafted at Geneva between 1949 and 1953.

Plenty of violations occurred during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghan-Soviet conflict and, most recently, the Iran-Iraq War -- by both sides. But no retributions ever came of it. Then again, no one decisively won those wars, so there was little opportunity to hold war-crime trials.

So what do we do, other than wring our hands and mutter imprecations? Most important, we can refuse to be deterred from attacking the targets shielded by the war prisoners, however painful that may be? Then, after the war is won, we can remind Hussein he has an overdue bill to pay.

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