05/14/2007 09:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

George Bush: Saving Face or Saving Lives

It was Afghanistan time, February 7th, 2002, when President Bush signed an order that reinforced Secretary Rumsfeld's instructions to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that they inform combat commanders that "Al Quaeda and Taliban individuals...are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Convention of 1949."

Then came the war with Iraq. Two U.S. soldiers were captured by insurgents outside of Mahmudiya. Their mutilated bodies were found two days later. Parenthetically for those who do not speak newspeak, mutilated usually mean castrated and maybe a little more. A few months ago four soldiers were captured, their bodies were found the next day.

Now three more of our men are captives, Al Quaeda in Iraq takes credit. I'm waiting for an offer by Al Quaeda to exchange their three prisoners for all our prisoners in Guantanamo.

Somehow, in the arrogance of 2002, President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld forgot that the rules of war were not written as an act of mercy. They are a quid-pro- quo. "You don't torture or kill our guys; we won't torture or kill yours." No one thought that our guys might be captured, that they might need the protection of the Geneva Convention. And then we set up Abu Ghraib and shipped hundreds of men to Guantanamo. We told the enemy and the rest of the world we're going to make up our own rules and to hell with the Geneva Convention.

There are families in America today, waiting for word from the Pentagon whether it's their son, their husband, who was one of the four killed Saturday morning, or even worse, one of the three still in the hands of Al Quaeda.

Whatever right we might have had to condemn Al Quaeda for its treatment of prisoners vanished in the halls of Abu Ghraib, in the cells of Guantanamo. We have lost all legal and moral authority when it comes to the treatment of prisoners.

Sometime this week three American families will learn that their sons are in the hands of a savage enemy who may do unspeakable things to people they love. If that savage enemy offers to release their three prisoners if we release our hundreds, then the president will be faced with the hardest choice of his presidency -- will he save face or save lives?

Readers please free to predict in your comments.