O'Reilly falsely claimed Geneva Conventions apply only to "soldiers"


FOX News host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that adhering to Geneva Convention protections for prisoners captured in Afghanistan means "elevating terrorists who kill civilians to the status of soldiers in a conventional war." In fact, though the Third Geneva Convention defines a category of detainees called "prisoners of war" (POWs) and lays out specific protections for them, the Fourth Geneva Convention ("Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War") lays out separate protections for civilians, including so-called "unlawful combatants," as Media Matters for America has documented.

On the January 4 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly clung to his belief that the Geneva Conventions apply solely to "somebody fighting for a country in a conventional war," i.e., prisoners of war, but not "somebody targeting civilians," i.e., suspected terrorists, even as two experts, retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, a former Judge Advocate General and current dean of Franklin Pierce Law School, and Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First, tried to correct him. When the experts seemed poised to expose O'Reilly's falsehood, however, he abruptly changed the subject, insisting that he didn't want to "get bogged down in minutiae":

O'REILLY: I think it's a clear definition [in the Geneva Conventions] of somebody fighting for a country in a conventional war, and somebody targeting civilians as the 9-11 people did who were not in uniform.


O'REILLY: Terrorists are not at the levels of soldiers. They are killers.

MASSIMINO: It [the Geneva Conventions] doesn't actually require that, Bill. I just want to get that straight. You seem to have this perception that applying the Geneva Conventions to these conflicts we're now engaged in -- in the war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and the war against terrorism -- somehow means that anyone captured in those conflicts has to be designated a POW. That's not true. The Geneva Conventions are not just about who is a POW. There are other categories of combatants and noncombatants.

O'REILLY: Yeah, there's a lot of layers to the convention, but what is indisputably true, both of you, is that [by applying the Geneva Conventions to terrorist suspects] you are elevating terrorists who kill civilians to the status of soldiers in a conventional war. I believe that's flat --

MASSIMINO: That's just not true.

HUTSON: No, that's not true. We're raising them to the level of human beings.

O'REILLY: Yes, you are. Just by applying the convention, you are doing that. And I believe that's flat-out wrong. Now let me get to another point because I don't want to get bogged down in minutiae here.

HUTSON: It's not minutiae, but go ahead.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.