At a preliminary hearing Sept. 9, defendant Albrecht Muth submitted a list of complaints, including that as a serving officer of a foreign army he was entitled to his uniform and rank while in custody . Muth is in the death of his 91-year-old wife, Viola Drath.
The Geneva Conventions come into play when an armed conflict exists between two nations and they generally apply to actions taken during normal military wartime operations.
Patch sought out legal opinions about Muth's claims. For legal and common sense reasons, Muth's purported rights to protection under the Geneva Conventions do not hold water.
The most basic element of his claim is that he is a "serving officer of a foreign army," namely in the Iraqi military. The Iraqi Embassy has denied any such affiliation.
In a statement the Embassy wrote:
"We are deeply troubled by Mr. Muth's claim of his service in the Iraqi military.He is not currently and has never been a member of the Iraqi Army. He does not represent the Embassy, its attaches, the government of Iraq, or any government institution in any fashion. In the past, the Embassy was aware of the claims made by Mr. Muth and made it clear to all concerned that they were false and demanded that they must cease."
The argument could stop there, but for sheer intellectual exercise, Patch asked David P. Stewart, a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, for his analysis of what, if any, rights Muth might have under the Geneva Conventions.
We asked Stewart to treat it as a fact that Muth is an officer of a foreign military. We wondered, when would his rights under the conventions kick in?
"Since there are no 'hostilities' or 'armed conflict' between the United States and Iraq, and certainly no 'armed conflict' here in the United States, the 1949 Geneva Conventions aren’t applicable," explained Stewart in an email.
Assuming the conventions were applicable, are soldiers protected under the Geneva conventions for a crime committed outside the theater of war?
"The Conventions afford immunity to service members for actions taken consistent with the laws of armed conflict (including for example killing enemy soldiers). In no way would it excuse him from killing civilian non-combatants" Stewart wrote.
And what about the right to wear his uniform?
According to Stewart, military officers in custody of their captors in the foreign military with which they are in hostilities "have the right to wear their uniform while being held as prisoners of war."
But, as all of the above findings make clear, Muth is not a prisoner of war. There is no war between the United State and Iraq. And Muth is not an Iraqi officer.
The government has 10 days to respond to Muth's alleged violations of his rights.
The U.S. Attorney's Office was unable to comment on the case directly or to indicate whether it had ever handled a Geneva Conventions violation claim before in a non-military case.
"We really typically don’t comment beyond what we state or submit to the court," explained Bill Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Patch will provide an update once the government files a response.