The Geneva Conventions and the Iraq War

This course examined several large parts of the Geneva Conventions, tracking them from the First Geneva Convention in 1864 through their current application (most notably the treatment of prisoners of war under Common Article Three, which received a great deal of attention in the media because the George W. Bush administration argued that they did not apply to US prisoners at Guantanamo, while the Supreme Court disagreed).

The course looked at the historical context for each of the Conventions (post Battle of Solferino), post WWI, and post Vietnam. We spent a great deal of time deciphering the texts of the documents and trying to figure out why they were developed the way they were given the historical environment.

Then we studied an incident at Haditha, Iraq, in which US soldiers were prosecuted in a court martial proceeding for killing civilians in close combat. We also looked at the battle of Falujah, Iraq, which raised similar questions.

The Geneva Conventions
The Warrior's Honor, by Michael Ignatieff
Torture at Abu Ghraib, by Seymour Hersh (article the The New Yorker)
Generation Kill, by Evan Wright
International Convention Against Torture
The Truth about Torture, by Marc Bowden(article in The Atlantic Monthly
Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court
US Army Report on Psychological Health of Combat Soldiers in Iraq
Media Used: 
Frontline Documentaries, on-line
Films, including The Battle of Algiers and Full Metal Jacket
Power Point Presentation/interview with Captain Allan Sputz, JAG
Significant Assignments: 

Students were asked to apply the Geneva Conventions (specifically those that govern the conduct of soldiers in combat) to several accounts of battles in the Iraq War, including Haditha, Fallujah, and several smaller incidents recounted in Generation Kill.

Students were asked to evaluate whether the actions of soldiers during those incidents violated the Geneva Conventions, and, if so, to write a short essay on whether or not they should be prosecuted

Students wrote a short essay on whether or not the US should join the International Criminal Court.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Research Paper on one of five offered topics, or design their own topic


Students chose one of five topics or designed their own, conducted research including interviews (often of veterans of the Iraq War), on the internet and in libraries.

Sample PBATs: 
Who should be held accountable for the abuses that occured at Abu Ghraib?
Under what circumstances, if any, can torture be justified, and how can limits be enforced?