An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.
Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
No one's been charged under it yet, but ever since the Hamdan decision applied the Geneva Conventions such that detainee abuse and torture could not be justified by Presidential orders, officials in the Bush adminstration have started to wonder if this little-known law may be used against U.S. personnel at some point. But given how senior military personnel and civilian officials were perfectly content to let the hands of justice go to work on the perpetrators of the Abu Ghraib abuses, I seriously doubt that they're afraid some more hapless soldiers might get taken to the slammer.
Anyway, if you're looking for someone important in the Bush administration to get carted off for being willing to flout the law on the President's orders, don't count on it. The higher up you go in the ranks, the less likely anybody gets in trouble for wrong-doing. But it's amusing nonetheless to see them sweat it just a little bit.