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COL EDITORIAL BRIEFS Clarify what is a war crime

At the end of last month the Washington Post reported the Bush administration is concerned that U.S. officials and troops might be accused of committing war crimes in connection with detainee abuses. It is a real concern and one for which the administration bears particular responsibility.

Sen. Mark Dayton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the committee is reviewing the issue. He called the issue "complicated," but rightly points the blame at Bush.

The report described how the administration has been seeking legislation that would give U.S. personnel protections against prosecutions.

The genesis of the problem comes from a 1996 U.S. law that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions. Punishment for convictions can be as severe as the death penalty.

Troop actions of concern come from Bush's 2002 order concerning how U.S. personnel are to handle detainees. It was an order that subsequently was declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Dayton said immunity should not be granted for "serious crimes like rape of Iraqi women and cold-blooded murder." However, he does support protections for prosecutions of more vague international law war crime charges.

Sen. Norm Coleman said he supports "clarification of what is punishable."

The obvious point is that if the Bush administration hadn't felt it could ignore the Geneva Conventions in the first place, then U.S. troops wouldn't be put in this situation.

As it is, a "clarification" is indeed in order. Specifically, Dayton seems to have outlined the proper position. Prosecute the blatant criminality, but protect U.S. troops from the vagaries of war.

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; No influence 90 miles past border

Cuban-Americans dancing in the streets of Miami over the expected demise of Cuban leader Fidel Castro are mistaken if they believe Cuba will undergo dramatic change soon -- or if they expect the United States to have a role in that change.

Should Castro's health force him from office, as it eventually must, there is no logical successor. The only logical choice at this point is his brother, who is already 76 years old. Eventually there might be a power struggle, but there are no indications that Cuba's Communist system, now in its fifth decade, will collapse anytime soon.

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The irony is that even if tomorrow's Cuba is amenable to change, the policy driven by Cuban-Americans has practically ensured that the United States will have little role to play in it. America's embargo and attempts to isolate Cuba have only one strict adherent: The United States. Even in our own hemisphere, Canada and Mexico have engaged in diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba that may give them a voice in Cuba's future.

No matter how loud the Cuban-Americans in Miami shout and sing, their voices still cannot be heard 90 miles away in Cuba.

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; Tipping point in car sales?

Everyone knows that at some point, high gasoline prices will cause a change in American automobile habits -- if not in usage, than perhaps in purchase.

U.S. auto sales in July might provide some evidence that we have reached a tipping point. For the first time, Toyota sold more cars in the United States than did Ford. General Motors is still the leading seller of cars in the nation, but even GM experienced a year-to-year decrease of 22.5 percent in sales for July. Ford's sales dropped 34.3 percent, while Toyota's jumped 11.7 percent.

Analysts say the increased sales for Toyota and the decreased sales for GM and Ford reflect the kind of cars made by the companies. Ford and GM are more reliant on gas-guzzlers, especially SUVs. But no SUVs were among the 10 top-selling models in July.

Americans don't like high gas prices. But rather than stop driving, they've apparently decided to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

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