Here's my proposal:

"The United States shall conduct all military, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement operations in full compliance with Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions to which the United States is a party by treaty and international law."

Why does it need to be any more complicated than that?

President Bush said last week "What does that mean, 'outrages upon human dignity'? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation."

Actually, he left off the rest of that statement, which quite clearly interprets what it means. The full statement is "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

That seems pretty clear to most normal people. But just in case it is not clear to President Bush, here are some examples of "humiliating and degrading treatment".

If the Bush Administration and our civilian military leadership feel it necessary to debate whether this is "humiliating and degrading treatment", it's a sad day for America.

140
like
CBT's picture

The Bush Administration has

The Bush Administration has ackowledged that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Those responsible have been punished. We don't need clarification on Abu Ghraib. However, clarification would help avoid the precise events which occurred at Abu Ghraib. Having a vague standard allows for multiple interpretations (lawyers often get paid to argue over such things). The President is looking for more clear guidelines.

Clarification of "outrages upon personal dignity" would enable America to conduct interrogations within acceptable bounds and obtain information we need to prevent more attacks on America and further loss of American life. Such guidelines would also hopefully prevent the mistakes of the past.

R. Neal's picture

Those responsible have been

Those responsible have been punished.

No they haven't. Yet.

metulj's picture

"Clarification of "outrages

"Clarification of "outrages upon personal dignity" would enable America to conduct interrogations within acceptable bounds and obtain information we need to prevent more attacks on America and further loss of American life."

So let's assume that America's moral positions are generally correct. If we shape our law to reflect those moral positions, then we could develop an interpretation of Article III that codifies our perception of what notions like 'human dignity,' 'degrading,' etc. are like. OK. So now this interpretation is US law.

North Korea says, 'OK, we'll do the same.' They come up with their interpretation of Article III that codifies their perception of 'human dignity', etc. When you read their law interpreting Article III it says things like "take all steps necessary to prevent the future suffering of the North Korean people while processing and interrogating captured enemy combatants." Oh, boy.

Bush doesn't want to clarify the law at all. The rank bullshit excuse that his 'professionals' doing intelligence work are afraid of being accused of war crimes is laughable. The people doing the torturing and what not care very little about these things as they know they will never be exposed. Can you name one person involved directly with the practice of 'rendition?' He wants to go ahead to get rid of the law he is currently breaking. It is inconvenient. Don't bother with the argument that it is protecting Americans because there is NO EVIDENCE to support the claim. 

 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

WhitesCreek's picture

  Clarification of

 

Clarification of "outrages upon personal dignity" would enable America to conduct interrogations within acceptable bounds and obtain information we need to prevent more attacks on America and further loss of American life. Such guidelines would also hopefully prevent the mistakes of the past.
Now see what a C student education gets you? Everybody else in the whole civilized world knows what torture looks like. Worked fine for fifty years until we put a C student in charge, a particularly intellectually lazy and selfish one at that.
Steve
Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Lazy, selfish, cowardly, AND stupid

Here's RJ Eskow on the subject at HuffingtonPost:

Here's where the Republican Party has brought the United States: We are being lectured on the immorality of torture by Uganda.

...

The crowd that's in power now talks about our values, but they can't wait to dump them. They talk about being better than the terrorists, then can't wait to act just like them. They're a stain on our national honor.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Bbeanster's picture

Chad says: "The Bush

Chad says: "The Bush Administration has ackowledged that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Those responsible have been punished. We don't need clarification on Abu Ghraib. However, clarification would help avoid the precise events which occurred at Abu Ghraib. Having a vague standard allows for multiple interpretations (lawyers often get paid to argue over such things). The President is looking for more clear guidelines."

Yep, it was just a bunch of deeply-troubled young people acting independently. Rogues.
Sounds vaguely familiar, don't you think?

SteveMule's picture

The question never asked

The question never asked about all that concerned 'Command Responsabilty.' What happened there went on too long for commanders not to know that at least something fishy was going on. Soimething that demanded their attention. That never happend leading me to believe that they either knew and approved or just didn't want to know and so avoided knowing.

Troops might, on occassion be successful in sneaking beer into the barracks but to be able to do so every night of the week means command negligence. Period. The troops punished for those acts deserved punishment and I do not in the least feel sorry for them for being punished. However, the fact that ONLY they were punished is the real crime.

President Bush's goal in this redefinition of Comman Article 3 is a continuation and broading of this defferal of command responsabilty and it is now clear that it is with his approval.

Take Care, Be Good and don't play in the street!

SteveMule

R. Neal's picture

The question never asked

In Congressional hearings, there was pretty clear evidence that Rumsfeld and his goons were in on it.

I seem to recall testimony that Rumsfeld personally approved the more aggressive interrogations. I believe Undersecretary of Defense Cambone also testified that he he had knowledge of these enhanced techniques. They sent a General Miller over to Iraq to meet with Rick Sanchez and deliver the new and improved Army interrogation manuals and explain the new procedures to "Gitmoize" (their term) Abu Ghraib. They sent over some prison outsourcing guy who had been fired from running U.S. prisons for abuse to setup the new Iraqi justice system and their prisons. They sent a bunch of CIA and military intelligence guys to oversee the interrogations.

The outcome, as I recall, was that the Red Cross got wind of what was happening and wrote letters. They were ignored. The CIA bailed out on the project, saying this wasn't what they signed up for. Sanchez was fired, some General in charge of latrines or something at Abu Ghraib was fired. Lynndie England and her boyfriend and some other bad apples went to jail. Case closed.

Scott1202's picture

The President is looking for

The President is looking for more clear guidelines.

 

No the president wants techniques such as "waterboarding" (which anyone who has a brain knows is torture) legalized, thinking that will retroactively cover his and his goons' as*es when they are brought up on charges for authorizing the torturing of prisoners in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

SemiPundit's picture

Most important

The most important goal appears to be retroactivity of immunity from prosecution. Draw your own conclusions. Additionally, one might ask that if they have been using these methods all along, then where are the results?

R. Neal's picture

where are the results?

Well, there haven't been any more attacks here. And we've caught that #2 al Qaeda guy several times.

SteveMule's picture

America's Pinochet

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I beleive that any compromise will center around this issue (retroactivite immunity from prosecution). President Bush does not want to become the USA's version of Gen Pinochet. 

Take Care, Be Good and don't play in the street!

SteveMule

Factchecker's picture

Bush great or greatest...?

Excerpt: "If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions... whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards," Powell told The Washington Post...

..."To say that we want to modify, clarify or redefine Common Article 3, which has not been modified for the 57 years of its history, I think adds to the doubt" about U.S. morality, Powell said.  

It boggles the mind how Bush apologists polish every turd passed along to them from Turd Blossom Rove and Bush.  What do former alcoholic Chickenhawks Bush and Cheney know about military justice that highly decorated military personnel Colin Powell, John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and others don't?  Hell, what have Bush and Cheney been right about at all? 

Bush has also denied the existence of secret CIA torture prisons, then flip-flopped and hailed them for how valuable they have been.  He has not denied that torture like water-boarding has been used but denies that it constitutes torture.  No wonder the USA is hated around the globe like never before.  We conduct ourselves exactly opposite from the way we advocate for the rest of the world. 

P.S. Could anyone believe that a U.S. president got into Matt Lauer's face and bullied him about people wanting to "murder your families"?

redmondkr's picture

It seems pretty obvious that

It seems pretty obvious that we have another "cancer on the presidency".  Every day we get more indications that people in high places are trying to fabricate escape routes and find scapegoats.

Big Democratic wins in November can bring us closer to cleaning up this mess, but the damage already done to America's reputation will take responsible government decades to mend.

Mr. Nixon told us that when the president does it, it's not illegal.  Fortunately, he didn't have the other two branches of government in his fan club.  His new Supreme Court has caused Mr. Bush more heartburn than I expected, but will they side with him in the rough?

The international community is powerless to thwart him even if he does become an American Pinochet.

His best bet would be to elect a crony in 2008, by hook or crook, who will subsequently pardon the bastard. 

redmondkr's picture

Mr. Bush is an outrage upon

Mr. Bush is an outrage upon human dignity.  Look much closer to home to see the results of his "Compassionate Conservatism".  Ray Nagin's image of the Bush pimpmobile amid the ruins of New Orleans is but one example.

This guy has an inverse Midas touch; everything he touches turns to manure.*

*This opinion is not nessessarily shared by pioneers. 

Rich Hailey's picture

I like Randy's idea. In

I like Randy's idea. In fact, let's take it one step further.

Let's treat every nation as if they actually signed every treaty we signed, whether they did or did not sign, and whether or not they are actually living up to the requirements of the treaty. That way, we show our moral superiority to the entire globe. We could even include peace treaties in the deal, and end all wars by unilaterally declaring peace to our enemies. They can keep fighting, and we'll just sit back and be peaceful.

It's a beautiful dream, isn't it?

So what if a few American soldiers/contractors/reporters get kidnapped/hanged/beheaded/tortured. They signed up for it,right? Screw 'em. And we really don't need all those embassies do we?

Since we obviously are not going to do that, we have to ask the question, "What makes the Geneva Conventions different from other treaties?"

Anyone?

R. Neal's picture

Morality =

Morality = surrender.
Acknowledging facts = surrender.
Questioning authority = surrender.

Typical right-wing rhetoric.
Look where it's gotten us.

Rich Hailey's picture

Why not dispense with

Why not dispense with rhetoric and answer the question? What makes the Geneva Conventions different from every other treaty, in which both signatories are required to live up to the terms of the treaty, otherwise it's null and void?

Are you suggesting that the Geneva Conventions codify the morality of war? Whose morality? And on what basis do we make it international law? And how do we justify expanding it to cultures which have a different morality?

Speaking of facts, isn't it a fact that neither Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Lebanon are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, and are therefore not bound by them? Do you acknowledge that fact?

Exactly what authority are you questioning, and what answers are you looking for? We know what answers the Bush administration is looking for, "What actions constitute violations of human dignity?" That's an important question to ask, don't you think?

Some answers are obvious, others less so. Consider: how effective would an interrogation be where the subject is kept in perfect dignity and comfort? Obviously it would be totally ineffective; the subject would have no reason to answer any questions. Either we accept that interrogation must be uncomfortable to some degree, or we forego interrogation entirely. We may well take the latter option, but are we willing to pay the cost in American lives if we do? If, on the other hand, we accept that interrogation by necessity involves some level of discomfort for the subject, then we absolutely need rules to determine what is acceptable and what isn't.

This isn't rhetoric; it's being practical.

Is sleep deprivation degrading? How about noisy environments? What about non damaging physical distress? How about psychological distress? For that matter, is the very act of imprisonment degrading? Sound arguments can be made for and against each category listed above, so doesn't it make sense that we get some formalized rules on what techniques are allowable and what aren't?

R. Neal's picture

Speaking of facts, isn't it

Speaking of facts, isn't it a fact that neither Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Lebanon are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, and are therefore not bound by them? Do you acknowledge that fact?

Afghanistan: signed 08.12.1949, ratified 26.09.1956
Iraq: ratified 14.02.1956
Iran: signed 08.12.1949, ratified 20.02.1957
Lebanon: signed 08.12.1949, ratified 10.04.1951
Syria: signed 12.08.1949, ratified 02.11.1953

I'm sure this is a trick question and there's something I'm missing here, and I'm sure you will explain it for is.

Rich Hailey's picture

Yep, it was. Each of the

Yep, it was. Each of the signing governments was deposed violently by groups that either explicitly rejected the policies of the former governments, or by their actions abrogated the requirements of the Conventions.

When Afghanistan signed the Coventions, it was a monarchy. The monarchy was deposed in 1973 and again in 1978. The 1978 government in particular ignored the requirements of the Conventions, especially after the Soviets invaded to support the Marxist regime. After the Soviets withdrew, the mujahadeen, who were not part of the withdrawal negotiations quickly overthrew the ruling government, and Afghanistan descended into chaos. The chaos was ended by the rise of the Taliban, which while ruling the country, was never recognized internationally as the legal government of Afghanistan. The accords signed and ratified by the monarchy were never acknowledged by any succeeding government until after the US invasion replaced the Taliban.

When Iran signed and ratified the Conventions, the Shah was in power. He was replaced in a fundamentalist religious coup by the Ayatollah Khomeini which placed Sharia law above all human law. Presumably, this includes the Conventions.

When Iraq signed on to the Conventions, it was as part of the Baghdad Pact, that allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the UK. Two years later, there was a military coup and the new government dissolved the Baghdad Pact. There have been three additional coups since then.

Lebanon's case is trickier, since their government has been a chaotic mess for decades. At one point, there were two governments, a Christian government in East Beirut, and a Muslim government in West Beirut, both claiming legitimacy. In the murkiness of Lebanese politics, their adherence to the Geneva Conventions is difficult to assess. Based on the events in Lebanon, including the consistent use of terrorism, it would appear that they too have rejected the calls of the Geneva Convention. However, many of the actions that violate the Conventions are most likely at the behest of Syria, which has dominated political power in Lebanon for decades.

Which brings us to Syria. The government that signed the Conventions was barely months old, the result of a military coup. The government that ratified the Conventions was a new one, also by coup, and was replaced in another coup shortly thereafter. The coups continued after a brief interval when Syria merged with Egypt, and finally ended when Ba'athist military members staged a coup that stuck in 1970. The current Syrian government does acknowledge the Conventions, but obviously does not consider itself bound by their requirements, as evidenced by the state support of terrorism.

It takes more than dates.

Now, getting deeper into the question, the Geneva Conventions place requirements on combatants that they must meet in order to qualify for inclusion. They must be part of a military hierarchy. They must be in a uniform that allows them to be easily distinguished from civilians. They must bear arms openly. And they must conduct their activities in accordance with internationally recognized rules of war.

Hiding among civilians, car bombs, suicide vests, and the like do not seem to meet those requirements.

So the question remains: What is so special about the Geneva Conventions that requires us to unilaterally adhere to them?

R. Neal's picture

Each of the signing

Each of the signing governments was deposed violently by groups that either explicitly rejected the policies of the former governments, or by their actions abrogated the requirements of the Conventions.

Sort of like what the Bush administration is trying to do, except without the violence (so far, to Americans anyway)?

metulj's picture

So what you are engaging in

So what you are engaging in is exactly what the I sketched out before. If you ignore or leave the Geneva Convention, you will remove the most basic framework for guaranteeing some sort of culpability for war crimes. If the US does so, then our enemies will do so too. Each American soldier seized in action by an enemy country who is tortured will go through that experience not only with the concomitant scars that it left behind but also with the assurance that his or her own country legitimated the torture in the first place.

"Each of the signing governments was deposed violently by groups that either explicitly rejected the policies of the former governments, or by their actions abrogated the requirements of the Conventions."

Oh, yeah. I meant to stick this in too: How many of those violent overthrows were caused by the US either as a reaction to US meddling or via direct US support of the overthrow? 

 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

Andy Axel's picture

Oh, come on!

How many of those violent overthrows were caused by the US either as a reaction to US meddling or via direct US support of the overthrow?

You're not going to count covert operations in there too, are you, Metulj?

BLACK BAG OPS DON'T COUNT!!!

[/sarcasm]

____________________________

On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning. --H. Thoreau

metulj's picture

THIS IS INCONVENIENT: The

THIS IS INCONVENIENT: The Shah. Heh. Indeed.

 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

Rich Hailey's picture

Metulj

See my response to SWGC above. Our soldiers are already being tortured. What good does adherence to a treaty that the other side rejects do for us. Answer, None.

And I won't get distracted by an argument about the causes of the violent overthrow of nearly every Middle Eastern government during the past 50 years.

Instead, let's try to stay on topic.

How do you define the difference between interrogation and torture?

metulj's picture

Interrogation is asking

Interrogation is asking questions to gather information. Torture is inflicting pain for the ostensible reason of collecting information. The former works. The latter does not. QED.

As for your "back on topic," the ironies of neocon positions always, always, always require demonstration. It is an ahistorical philosophy, which is why it is the domain of people who think that historically debunked notions like the viability of torture can work. Is it about getting answers or retribution?

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

Rich Hailey's picture

Metulj "Torture is torture; interrogation is interrogation"

OK, let's use your definition and see where it takes us.

Suppose I ask questions in order to gain information for 48 hours straight.

Is that interrogation or torture? Drop it back to 24 hours. Now what is it?

8 hours. Torture or interrogation?

4 hours. Where's the line and how do we know when we've crossed it?

Hmmm. Your "QED" appears to be premature, doesn't it.

And once again, not once during this thread or anywhere else have I advocated torture. I've just asked where the dividing line between interrogation and torture is placed.

metulj's picture

Torture: Torturer takes your

Torture: Torturer takes your family up into a helicopter, starts tossing loved ones out until you talk.

Interrogation: "Look at this picture of your family. We can stop this conflict and save them if you tell me what I want to know."

Torture: Torturer smokes. Puts cigarettes out on your testicles. Has your sister raped in front of you. Then asks you your name.

Interrogation: "What do you smoke? Here have one of mine. Yeah, its a nasty habit. I picked it up in my hometown. What's your hometown like? What's it called? Haditha. Let me light that. Lot of insurgent activity there. Were you part? No. Who would be a part of that?"

Torture: You are tied to an aluminum ladder. Torturer has this ladder dunked for a minute at a time into a pool with your head facing downwards. He does this for hours. Then he asks you your name.

Not torture: "Tell me about your brother, Iqbal. He was a great soccer player. Didn't Saddam kill him? No, sorry. It was Uday. So why would you fight with them? You don't. OK. Then you are with Al Sadr? No? OK. So, Iqbal scored 4 goals in the Italian league one year. Why was he killed? So you fight with the Islamic Resistance because of that? No? Why do you fight with the Islamic Resistance? OK. I understand." 

Your argument is fallacious anyway Rich. Attempting to make a telelogical argument about what is and isn't torture is assumes that there is no 0 point in the argument. It is also, frankly, moral relativism. 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

Rich Hailey's picture

Metulj Those are examples, not definitions

But we are starting to get somewhere.

However, your first example does smack somewhat of psychological torture, playing on the subject's fears for his family, and his feelings of powerlessness since he's been captured. It could also be viewed as a veiled threat against his family if he fails to co-operate, so you might want to drop that example.

You never know how the ICRC is going to judge.

As for your characterization of my argument as teleological, you have it exactly backwards. I'm looking for a naturalistic definition. We want to get information. What processes are effective and what processes are torture?

As for moral relativism, that's precisely what I'm trying to eliminate. As it stands now, the definition of inhumane treatment rests solely on the conceptions of the ICRC, which has steadfastly refused to provide any concrete foundations for their definitions, instead preferring to go with the current dictates of society.

That's moral relativism at it's highest form.

metulj's picture

OK. Since torture is

OK. Since torture is undefinable, therefore it is OK. Check. It is thought like that that allows Cheney et al to get away with this. Go back and read your Orwell. I like your misuse of the word 'subjective' too. Subjects are definable. You didn't learn that from the Leo Strauss books on tape series? Go ahead and take your ball and play elsewhere.

 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

WhitesCreek's picture

Metulj, I don't think it

Metulj, I don't think it matters whether torture is definable or whether "we have to do it to them because they're going to do it to us."

I just think it's hilarious in a sick way that these arguments are being made by the same crowd that screams that America is a Christian Nation.

 W's "favorite philosopher" said "that eye for an eye thing doesn't work so quit it." (my translation from the Aramaic, in case you were wondering)

"Turn the other cheek"..."Do unto others"..."Don't bother arguing with the intentionally stupid"...shorter Jesus.

Torture doesn't give meaningful information. The folks who want torture don't want answers, they want pain. They are just mean f---s, and that's all there is to it.

 

Steve 

tennesseevaluesauthority's picture

What good does adherence to

What good does adherence to a treaty that the other side rejects do for us.

**Sigh**

There used to be a time when we tried very hard not to become just like the enemy we fought. I guess that's too hard now. 

Rich Hailey's picture

Tennesseevaluesauthority: You make a false assertion

As soon as you can show where I said we should be torturing and beheading all enemy combatants, then I'll concede your point. However, I've said nothing of the kind, and only by quoting out of context can you make it seem that way. As I said above, I see a clear ethical difference between causing non-permanent physical and psychological distress in order to elicit information, and slitting a man's throat for being a Jew. If these activities both carry the same ethical weight to you, then that is an unbreachable gulf between us.

We've got two questions on the table, both raised by Randy's plan to have the US vow to stick to the Geneva Conventions regardless of what our opponents do. The first is "What makes the Geneva Conventions so different that we should uphold them unilaterally, where all other treaties are considered multilateral?" The second is "Where is the dividing line between interrogation and torture."

Socialist made an attempt to answer the first. I disagree with his argument, but at least he made one. So far, nobody has seriously ventured to answer the second.

R. Neal's picture

perfect dignity and

perfect dignity and comfort

There is no requirement in Article 3 that prisoners are to be afforded "perfect dignity and comfort." The rules are pretty specific for what is and what isn't acceptable, and have been for about 60 years. We can't control whether other countries abide by them. We can expect ours to.

Factchecker's picture

Back to your argument, Rich

I think you're just saying that we've always been tortured by others, so why don't we just torture back?  Well, again, why have treaties to ban torture at all?  Why have treaties?  Because it's better than war?  Because we're not barbarians?  Because we want our word to be believed and we're willing to back our words in writing?  If we do that, won't our prestige be ruined if we break our word?  Wouldn't we be able to use it in world courts of law and in the court of world opinion, if only the other guy breaks their written word?  Isn't that exactly what Colin Powell is saying?   Do you need to review his resume vis a vis yours or anyone's in the present Bush administration?

I'm not sure if Americans have always been tortured as you say, but even if so, what did our enemies get out of it?  What have we ever gotten out of torturing back?  Ask John McCain.  What does he, Powell, and other military experts not know or understand about this issue that you, Bush and Bush's prescient neocons (heh!) are so nuanced on?

We live in a society of laws.  Words have meaning.  Et cetera, et cetera.  All that stuff that Republicans lecture the left about when they have no other issues like all these that have erupted since Clinton left office because W is so dangerously incompetent. 

Rich Hailey's picture

Factchecker: Read the posts above.

I think you're just saying that we've always been tortured by others, so why don't we just torture back?
As I said above, this is NOT what I am saying. Try again.
Do you need to review his resume vis a vis yours or anyone's in the present Bush administration?
Nope. I don't accept the argument from authority.HIstory is full of experts who were wrong. If the argument doesn't make sense, it doesn't matter whether it's advanced by a general or a janitor; it's still wrong.
I'm not sure if Americans have always been tortured as you say, but even if so, what did our enemies get out of it?
Wow. Do you deny the Holocaust as well? As for what they got out of it, the NVA got a tremendous amount of intelligence from broken pilots, not to mention great propaganda.
We live in a society of laws. Words have meaning. I agree completely. According to the Geneva Conventions, combatants caught operating outside the rules of war, i.e. not meeting the 4 requirements of a POW, are considered spies and can be summarily executed. That's the law, and it has meaning. So should we immediately execute all terrorists?

Factchecker's picture

Republicans don't need no stinkin' treaties

Since we obviously are not going to do that, we have to ask the question, "What makes the Geneva Conventions different from other treaties?"

Anyone?

Your obvious implication is that if some treaties are being violated, why should we follow any of them in order to protect "the American way"?  Well then, why should any country follow any goddamn treaty?

We could just have an all-out world war right now to settle things once and for all, huh?  Well, why not?  Rich?  "Anyone"?

R. Neal's picture

Nuke Mecca and get it over

Nuke Mecca and get it over with!

Rich Hailey's picture

Your obvious implication is

Your obvious implication is that if some treaties are being violated, why should we follow any of them in order to protect "the American way"?

You can't there from here, Chuck, without a major logical error. My point is that a treaty is a multilateral agreement between two or more parties. If one side breaks the treaty, or is not a signatory to it, the terms and conditions of that treaty do not apply to either party. That fact has no implications for other treaties, especially if they involve different parties. For example, if Randy and I sign an agreement, you are not covered by that agreement, unless you sign onto it as well. If you and I sign a separate agreement, and you break it, that does not release me from my obligations to Randy.

So there's no need for an all out world war just yet.

Now try answering the actual question: Why should we apply the terms of the Geneva Conventions to nations that have not signed on to them, and are actively breaking the requirements therein? What makes the Geneva Conventions a treaty that we should follow unilaterally?

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

A simple calculus

Why should we apply the terms of the Geneva Conventions to nations that have not signed on to them, and are actively breaking the requirements therein? What makes the Geneva Conventions a treaty that we should follow unilaterally?

It's really quite simple: if we decide to ignore the Conventions, American soldiers will be tortured after capture during the next conventional war. We won't be merely risking such an outcome, we'd be guaranteeing it. Yes, our soldiers have been tortured by non-state actors in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if we decide that we can arbitrarily ignore international law (even when fighting non-state militants), we will become more of a pariah nation than we already are.

We followed the first three Conventions during World War II (the ones in effect at the time), even though our enemies didn't. Had we decided to act like the Nazis or the Japanese, we would have had exactly zero moral authority to insist on war crimes trials after the war was over.

Debasing ourselves and debasing our values merely for the sake of short-sighted expediency will not gain us anything at all, and it will cost us dearly in the long run.

(And no useful information comes from torture, whether the White House wants to believe it or not. Military experts have weighed in on this repeatedly, and the conclusion is consistent: torture doesn't work.)

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rich Hailey's picture

Socialist With a Gold Card

if we decide to ignore the Conventions, American soldiers will be tortured after capture during the next conventional war.

I disagree. You are making the assumption that our soldiers won't be tortured during a conventional war. Can you name any war, conventional or unconventional in which our soldiers have not been tortured by our enemies, whether signatories or not?

WW1? Nope.
WW2? Hell no.
Korea? Try again
Viet Nam? Yeah, right.
Somalia? The Gulf War? Any of them?

Nope.

So if our soldiers face torture upon capture anyway, your argument fails.

You also make the mistake of failing to draw a line between interrogation techniques and torture. As I said earlier, either we accept that effective interrogation will involve discomfort, or we do not. At what point does an effective technique become torture? That is the question being put forth by the Bush administration, and it's a good one. Randy has already indicated that the one extreme, no discomfort, is not practical or required, but he's refusing to take the next step, and define the line between interrogation and torture.

Will you?

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

You are making the

You are making the assumption that our soldiers won't be tortured during a conventional war.

I am making no such assumption. My point (which you seemed to ignore) is that deliberately casting aside the Conventions (whether against state actors or non-state actors) will destroy any credibility we might have in calling for war crimes trials or any other form of justice against barbarians. If we become the barbarians, we have no ethical, legal, or moral legs upon which to stand.

You also make the mistake of failing to draw a line between interrogation techniques and torture.

I didn't realize that was my homework assignment, so I'll correct the omission: It's not up to me, Randy, you, or anybody else to interpret the meaning of the Conventions, since their meaning has been defined since the Conventions were ratified. The International Red Cross is (according to the Conventions) the chief international body charged with overseeing compliance with the Conventions and interpreting their meaning.

First, let's look at the relevant text of Article III:

Art 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

Next, let's see what the horse's mouth has to say on the subject (since their opinion is really the only one that matters -- mine certainly doesn't):

We shall endeavour to explain later, when discussing Article 13, the sense in which "humane treatment" should be understood. The definition is not an easy one. On the other hand, there is less difficulty in enumerating things which are incompatible with humane treatment. That is the method followed in the Convention when it proclaims four absolute prohibitions. The wording adopted could not be more definite: "To this end, the following acts ' are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever... " ' No possible loophole is left; there can be no excuse, no attenuating circumstances.
Items (a) and (c) concern acts which world public opinion finds particularly revolting -- acts which were committed frequently during the Second World War. One may ask whether the list is a complete one. At one stage of the discussions, additions were considered -- with particular reference to the biological "experiments" carried out on detained persons. The idea was rightly abandoned, since biological experiments are among the acts covered by (a). Besides, it is always dangerous to try to go into too much detail -- especially in this domain. However great the care taken in drawing up a list of all the various forms of infliction, it would never be possible to catch up with the imagination of future torturers who wished to satisfy their bestial instincts; and the more specific and complete a list tries to be, the more restrictive it becomes. The form of wording adopted is flexible, and at the same time precise. The same is true of item (c).

Humane treatment is discussed here.

To pretend that these principles have somehow become quaint, obsolete, or no longer apply is disingenuous and dangerous sophistry.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rich Hailey's picture

My point (which you seemed

My point (which you seemed to ignore) is that deliberately casting aside the Conventions (whether against state actors or non-state actors) will destroy any credibility we might have in calling for war crimes trials or any other form of justice against barbarians.

So your point is (and I haven't been ignoring it) that we need to stick with the Geneva Conventions regardless of whether our opponent does so, and regardless of whether or not they have signed it, so that we may have the moral authority after the conflict is over to criminally try those who may have violated the Conventions.

This rests on several questionable assumptions. First, that a non-state combatant or a non signatory state can be held liable under the conventions, a problematic assumption at best. It also assumes that we win the conflict, also a problematic assumption. It also assumes that the purpose of the Geneva Conventions was not to actually protect POWs and civilian populations during times of conflict, but to allow criminal prosecution of the loser after the conflict.

Finally, it totally neglects the obligation of the parties involved to adhere to the commonly accepted rules of war, and attempts to include under the protective umbrella of the Conventions actions specifically excluded by the conventions.

Quite a stretch. In short, you are saying that we must extend every protection of the Geneva convention to those who reject it, in fear that we might not be able to prosecute them later.

I couldn't disagree more. To me, it is much more important to obtain useful information to help us protect our civilians from future terrorist attacks.

I also disagree strongly with the notion that keeping a man in a cold cell while blaring loud music at him in order to prevent more terrorist attacks somehow makes us the moral equivalent of the guys who slit the throat of a reporter just because he's Jewish. Call me crazy, but I see a very tangible distinction between the two acts.

And since the Red Cross's definition of humane treatment is roughly equivalent to Justice Stewart's definition of obscenity, "I don't know what it is, but I know it when I see it, I don't grant the ICRC sole discretion to determine what constitutes humane or inhumane treatment.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

You seem intent

You seem intent on ascribing statements and assumptions to me which I have not made. I guess that makes it easier to knock down the straw man, doesn't it?

Yes, we need to stick to the Conventions, whether our enemy does or not. It is the rule of law which separates us from the barbarians. We don't have to wait until "after the conflict is over" to put them before a tribunal in The Hague or before a court martial in the US for war crimes, and I never said or implied any such thing. Any of the detainees at Gitmo or in any of the secret CIA prisons could be put on trial right now, today, without any compromise of our position in prosecuting this conflict.

Since Bush has decided to call this conflict a "war" and approach it as a purely military problem, he is bound by the Constitution and our treaty obligations to adhere to the rules. Whether his enemies do or not is irrelevant; we elect a president to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," not ignore it at whim. When there is a controversy over the meaning of laws or treaties, it is up to the courts, not the Executive, to determine their meaning.

If the leaders of this country insist on the folly of treating the "war" on terrorism as an actual "war," then they are bound by the rules of warfare. Bush does not have the authority to rewrite international and US law regarding "war" just because he feels uncomfortable by the constraints those laws place upon him. If he's going to treat this as "war," then the combatants captured during that war are subject to the Conventions, whether King George and the neo-cons like it or not.

On the other hand, if he treats this as a law enforcement matter, the suspects arrested for prosecution are subject to US civilian law. So the controlling laws are either the UCMJ and the Geneva Conventions on the one hand, or the US Constitution and civilian law on the other. Bush does not have the right to arbitrarily write new laws as he sees fit, nor ignore existing ones he doesn't like, nor does the Congress have the authority to grant him the right to abrogate our Constitution or our treaty obligations (which, once signed, are the law of the land). If the Congress wishes to withdraw the US from the Geneva Conventions, they have the right to do so, but such an action would be reckless and catastrophic.

In short, you are saying that we must extend every protection of the Geneva convention to those who reject it, in fear that we might not be able to prosecute them later.

In short, yes. Also, if we abrogate our obligations under the Conventions, they become utterly moot, and the world will become just as chaotic and Hobbesian as the neo-cons want us to believe. The rule of law will become a parody of itself.

Your embrace of barbarism in the name of useless (not "useful") information obtained via torture is not hard to understand, given the fact that the neo-cons and their apologists (which you seem to be) adhere to the doctrine of American exceptionalism. This misguided, delusional notion that the US is so different from the rest of the world that we aren't bound by the rules that everyone else must follow is nothing more than rank nationalism under another name. I don't mean to Godwin the conversation, but the Nazis used exactly the same rationale to put their political enemies in concentration camps; these "enemies of the state" posed an ongoing, never-ending threat to the regime and therefore could justifiably be imprisoned indefinitely, tortured, and murdered. The perpetuation of the regime was more important than justice or adherence to the norms of accepted human behavior. Whether any of the detainees currently under illegal detention are actually terrorists or not can't be resolved until they are put on trial in some form resembling justice. Imprisoning and torturing people and keeping them detained indefinitely because they are "enemies of the state" requires a blind faith in the holders of power that our system of government explicitly disavows (see the Separation of Powers).

I also disagree strongly with the notion that keeping a man in a cold cell while blaring loud music at him in order to prevent more terrorist attacks somehow makes us the moral equivalent of the guys who slit the throat of a reporter just because he's Jewish. Call me crazy, but I see a very tangible distinction between the two acts.

More straw men. I never made any such comparison. However, I will make this comparison: the torture and murder of detainees at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Kandahar, ad nauseum is exactly the equivalent of the murder of Danny Pearl. The only distinction is the nationality of the murderers.

I don't grant the ICRC sole discretion to determine what constitutes humane or inhumane treatment.

Well, thank God that discretion is not up to you to grant. The notion that ordinary words, which have been clearly understood for nearly 60 years and which are fully codified within the UCMJ, can no longer be understood is simply ludicrous.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rich Hailey's picture

No Straw Men Here;

Since Bush has decided to call this conflict a "war" and approach it as a purely military problem, he is bound by the Constitution and our treaty obligations to adhere to the rules.

And if the Soviets violated the SALT/START treaties, we should still have honored them, because that made us morally better, right? Of course, that would have resulted in our annihilation, but becoming a glowing pile of radioactive dust is so much more meaningful when you're sitting on the high moral ground.

I repeat, what makes the Conventions different from any other multilateral treaty?

Whether his enemies do or not is irrelevant; we elect a president to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," not ignore it at whim.

Oddly, I can't find a copy of the Geneva Convention contained in the Constitution. Nor can I find anywhere that says asking for clarification of an ambiguous passage is unconstitutional.

If he's going to treat this as "war," then the combatants captured during that war are subject to the Conventions, whether King George and the neo-cons like it or not.

Even if the Conventions specifically exclude them as lawful combatants? Again, that's quite a stretch.

Your embrace of barbarism in the name of useless (not "useful") information obtained via torture is not hard to understand, given the fact that the neo-cons and their apologists (which you seem to be) adhere to the doctrine of American exceptionalism.

At last! A real straw man! Once again I ask, where have I advocated torture? Where have I condoned abuse of prisoners? To those with the ability to read, it is clear that I haven't done either. If anything, I'm urgently trying to avoid supporting torture by finding the dividing line, but nobody seems to want to step up to the plate and say "Here it is. Questioning a man for 6 hours is allowed. 7 hours will be considered torture."

More straw men. I never made any such comparison.

Actually, you did. Until you are willing to draw a line differentiating interrogation from torture, then you have labeled all interrogation techniques as torture. Additionally, you cited the ICRC and the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly say that all coercive forms of questioning are forbidden as inhumane treatment of POWs.

So, tell me where you part company with the Geneva Conventions, and I'll grant you the point. Until then, you are on record as supporting the GC definitions.

...the torture and murder of detainees at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Kandahar, ad nauseum is exactly the equivalent of the murder of Danny Pearl. The only distinction is the nationality of the murderers.

No. The real distinction is that those who carried out the abuses at Abu Ghraib were tried and convicted. The tactics used at Gitmo have not resulted in any deaths; the only deaths I've found at Gitmo were 3 suicides. Those abusing prisoners at Kandahar are being punished. In short, when one of ours goes over the line; they're punished. When one of theirs crosses the line, there's a celebration.

Funny how you fail to see that difference.

And I just finished reviewing my copy of the UCMJ, and the only mention of unlawful combatants that I can find is the part where it says they face the death penalty after a Court Martial.

But isn't that considered barbaric?

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

And if the Soviets violated

And if the Soviets violated the SALT/START treaties (blah blah blah) would have resulted in our annihilation

How would Soviet violation of a treaty have caused bombs to start falling from the sky? Man, talk about leaps of logic.

The Geneva Conventions aren't really different from any other multilateral treaties, in that abrogation of those treaties will have consequences. Most of the time, the abrogation of a treaty results in economic consequences. The abrogation of Geneva would result in the torture and murder of US soldiers.

Oddly, I can't find a copy of the Geneva Convention contained in the Constitution.

Then you haven't read the Constitution. Article VI says:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land ...

The Geneva Conventions are treaties ratified by Congress, and are therefore the supreme law of the land, whether you like it or not.

Once again I ask, where have I advocated torture?

I would direct your attention to this response, which you ignored.

If anything, I'm urgently trying to avoid supporting torture by finding the dividing line, but nobody seems to want to step up to the plate and say "Here it is. Questioning a man for 6 hours is allowed. 7 hours will be considered torture."

...

Until you are willing to draw a line differentiating interrogation from torture, then you have labeled all interrogation techniques as torture.

Bullshit. "Interrogation" and "coercive interrogation" are not the same thing. Six versus seven hours interrogation is not the issue. Questioning versus waterboarding is. The UCMJ lays it out; I suggest you read it. And yes, "coercion" does amount to "torture" if it violates the GCs. Your argument smacks of Gonzales's (and John Yoo's) hair-splitting endorsement of valid interrogation being anything that doesn't cause death or permanent organ damage. This is not the avoidance of torture, it's the codification of it.

So, tell me where you part company with the Geneva Conventions, and I'll grant you the point. Until then, you are on record as supporting the GC definitions.

You damn well better believe I support the GC definitions. I don't part company with them anywhere.

And I just finished reviewing my copy of the UCMJ, and the only mention of unlawful combatants that I can find is the part where it says they face the death penalty after a Court Martial.

But isn't that considered barbaric?

The key phrase is "after a court martial," not "after a kangaroo court in which they aren't allowed to review the evidence against them and are tortured until they confess." The first phrase is an established principle of civilized law; the second is the system Bush and his apologists support, and which we have prohibited in this country since its founding. The first is accepted, and the second is barbaric.

If the detainees at Gitmo et al. are not POWs, then they are subject to the civilian courts. Nothing in Bush's "War On Terror" necessitates the creation of an entirely new and lawless system to handle people who already fall within one of the two existing frameworks. They either fall under the UCMJ or the USC. It is up to the civilian courts to draw the line between the two, not the Executive or his apologists.

EDIT: I see that you didn't completely ignore this response, but you did attempt to weasel out of acknowledging a clearly defined distinction between interrogation and torture, and that our President is attempting to codify the latter into American law.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rich Hailey's picture

I would direct your

I would direct your attention to this response, which you ignored.

Nope. answered, just not in order. Also, nothing in that answer would appear to show me endorsing torture. And as I stated in my answer to that post, providing examples is not the same as providing a definition.

How would Soviet violation of a treaty have caused bombs to start falling from the sky? Man, talk about leaps of logic.

Let me lay out the chain for you. A. Soviets build up arms rather than destroying them. B. We keep destroying ours, per the treaty. C. The balance of Terror becomes unbalanced, and MAD no longer functions. D. The Kremlin believes they can win a nuclear exchange.

And there you have it. Not inevitable, but certainly plausible. But rather than quibble with the specifics, why not address the broader issues raised by the example. When one side of a treaty abandons it, as has happened many times in the past, the other side is never compelled to hold to it.

That's standard international law.

The case here is even clearer since even under the treaty as implemented, these folks do not rate the protections you want to give them.

The UCMJ lays it out; I suggest you read it.

I have read it and nowhere does it define torture, or specify what acts constitute inhumane treatment, other than branding, flogging, tattooing or other cruel and unusual punishments. It does lay out punishments for cruel treatment of prisoners, but does not define that treatment. If I missed something, cite the article.

"Interrogation" and "coercive interrogation" are not the same thing.

I'd buy that if you could define the difference. Again, examples don't cut it.

CBT's picture

"You damn well better

"You damn well better believe I support the GC definitions. I don't part company with them anywhere."

Socialist, picking up on Rich's question...do you then agree that virtually all the prisoners at issue don't meet the definition of a person who is covered by the GCs...and therefore the GCs dictates on interrogation do not apply?

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Socialist, picking up on

Socialist, picking up on Rich's question...do you then agree that virtually all the prisoners at issue don't meet the definition of a person who is covered by the GCs...and therefore the GCs dictates on interrogation do not apply?

No, I don't agree that they don't meet the definition of a covered person, since the Bush administration has not permitted this question to be answered by a competent court (see the stonewalling in the Padilla and Hamdi cases for starters).

The detainees fall under the jurisdiction of either the UCMJ or the USC (with full habeas review at their disposal). A shadow judicial system improvised just for political expediency is neither warranted nor wise.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

JaHu's picture

I wonder if Bush has copies

I wonder if Bush has copies of those pics stored in a box in his closet?

Rich Hailey's picture

A Different Approach

OK, since we're having trouble defining the differences between interrogation and torture, let's change our approach a little. Government is above all a practical business. Debating ideas is all well and good, but you have to take actions based on those ideas, and those actions will have consequences.

So let's take a look at them.

Assume for the sake of argument that our captured subject is an al Qaida operative with knowledge of an imminent attack on American soil that will kill a large number of American citizens. He is our only lead on the operation, and getting information from him represents our only chance to save American lives. For this argument, we will state that the captive, despite not fitting the description of a lawful combatant will be treated in full accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Art. 17 of the Conventions states that POWs shall not be subjected to any coercive treatment of any kind in order to elicit information.

You're the President. How many American lives will you sacrifice to continue to extend protections he does not qualify for to this man? This is the question that the President faces every day. Not John McCain. Not Colin Powell. Not Condoleeza Rice. Not any of the other experts, talking heads, and commentators. The President, whoever is sitting in the chair at the time, has the awesome responsibility of balancing American ideals with American lives.

So ask yourself, how many American lives are you willing to sacrifice to extend Geneva Convention protections to a man who by definition does not rate them?

1?

100?

1000?

10,000?

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

You seem to be laboring

You seem to be laboring under the impression that torture, or coercive interrogation, or whatever you want to call it, elicits useful information. Please substantiate this outlandish claim. Please provide some reputable source (and the Inquisition doesn't count) that contradicts the assertions of McCain, Powell, and other military types who insist that torture simply does not work.

Please enlighten all of us.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rich Hailey's picture

Easy one Socialist

Police use what the ICRC consider coersive methods all the time in thier interrogations. They lie, intimidate, psychologically manipulate, isolate, and terrify their subjects. The verbally threaten them, they subject them to strained lighting, uncomfortable temperature, etc, and through it all, manage to elicit a tremendous amount of good information.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Easy, indeed

Then let's put the detainees under civilian authority, by all means. I'd be all for that, in a heartbeat.

Let's allow the FBI to interrogate them, then subject those interrogations to review by civilian courts, under civilian law, with the full rights and responsibilities that habeas review requires. I'd endorse that in a New York minute (see the Padilla case as an example). Unlawfully acquired information would be thrown out if it violates existing law, and lawfully acquired information would be admissible.

Unfortunately, the Bush regime doesn't see this as a civilian law enforcement problem, so your use of civilian law enforcement analogies is irrelevant.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

rikki's picture

I missed this discussion

I missed this discussion while it was in progress, and I'm not sure I've read every comment. I hope I'm not being redundant.

SWAGC's above remark strikes at the heart of the matter as I see it. The Geneva Conventions shouldn't really apply to al Qaeda because al Qaeda is not a nation. The definition of "terrorist" implies that the person is not a soldier. Bush created this problem for himself by opting to go to war with al Qaeda rather than capturing and prosecuting terrorists as criminals. It's a problem that precedes him, and it boils down to giving too much respect to the terrorists.

Terrorism is all about asymmetrical responses. Terrorists don't have the manpower to accomplish their goals, so they attempt to manipulate their enemy's emotions. We knew this was their goal when the 9/11 attacks happened. Remember "If we let this change us, the terrorists will have won"? We lost. That we are seriously debating whether it's okay for us to torture people, detain them without trial, monitor American's phone habits, etc proves that we lost. Defending torture and human rights abuses is an act of cowardice and an admission of defeat.

Andy Axel's picture

He didn't say he learned

He didn't say he learned anything. He said he "learned what he came here to learn." In other words, it sounds more like he came to confirm his preconcieved idea that liberals and Democrats are soft on terror because they don't support the idea of torture.

That was what I was trying to frame in words, but you've done a good job of restating my point.

It's an interesting way of "learning" something. Actually, all he's done is reinforce his prejudices. He came here looking for evidence of something he already held to be true.

Anyway, you nailed it, R.

The Geneva Conventions shouldn't really apply to al Qaeda because al Qaeda is not a nation. The definition of "terrorist" implies that the person is not a soldier. Bush created this problem for himself by opting to go to war with al Qaeda rather than capturing and prosecuting terrorists as criminals. It's a problem that precedes him, and it boils down to giving too much respect to the terrorists.

Problem is, Bush started with this first sentence and stopped, i.e. "The Geneva Conventions don't apply. Period."

What precedes him is a nascent tradition among politicos to declare "war" on things like communism, poverty, inflation, drugs, terrorism, etc. A "war" on terrorism should be a metaphorical construct, rather than a game of Axis & Allies writ large. I would be more comfortable thinking that this war involved boots on the ground doing intelligence work, infiltration, interrogation, and sabotage, rather than a shooting war complete with shock, awe, wasted money, incompetent provisional authorities, and ineffectual detainment/torture.

Defending torture and human rights abuses is an act of cowardice and an admission of defeat.

Yankee Trotskyites showing their colors like this is breath-taking to me. This sort of syndrome -- American apologists begging for a domestic rollout of the authoritarian state -- besepeaks a larger sentiment which doesn't get talked about in civics classes. It especially surprises me to hear this coming from people who wouldn't otherwise entrust the government to conduct a two-car parade.

____________________________

On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning. --H. Thoreau

R. Neal's picture

Let's try it another way.

Let's try it another way. You say you don't advocated torture. Yet you say because the "other side" (past, present, and future) does, we aren't bound by the Geneva Conventions.

But let's argue just for a moment that we are. Since you appear to be of the belief that there are interrogation techniques that are aggressive yet not technically banned by the Geneva Conventions, and you believe that the United States has some moral duty to define that fine line which has stood for sixty years without benefit of your insight, where would you draw it?

How many contusions?

How many broken bones?

How many pints of blood?

How many damaged organs?

How much psychological trauma?

How many "accidental" deaths?

Where do you draw the line at psychopathic behavior? Do you know the definition of a sociopath? In your view, do any of the policies you espouse or could any of the policies of our civilian military leaders and our commander in chief be considered sociopathic by that definition?

What did they teach you in the Navy? What did they say you should do if captured? What did they say you should do if tortured? How did they say you should treat any prisoners you might capture? Did they teach you that it was OK to torture prisoners?

I'm just trying to understand the pathology. Please enlighten us.

Rich Hailey's picture

Randy...in other words

You don't want to answer the question as posed. You want me to answer it.

Nice try but it won't fly.

You and others keep harping on the fact that the Convention has been adequate for 60 years without requiring new definitions. An odd argument coming from a progressive, who usually preaches that changing times and circumstances require changing definitions, but we'll go with it.

The Geneva Conventions clearly ban all forms of coercive interrogation of POWs, whether it is considered torture or not. They also clearly define what a POW is, which our hypothetical captive does not meet. That was part of the scenario.

My question was simply this: If you support the Geneva Conventions' definition, then how many American lives are you willing to sacrifice to apply those definitions to a man who by the Convention itself, does not merit its protections?

You're trying to selectively apply the policies of the Conventions, giving the terrorists the benefits of the Conventions without requiring that they operate under its restrictions. Why do you think they defined POWs so specifically? Could it perhaps be so that those who operate outside the rules of war not be allowed to take advantage of the protections those rules apply?

Why else make the distinction?

So my answer to your question is this: If the captured man meets the definition of a POW as defined by the Geneva Conventions, then he should be afforded all the protections of the Conventions, including the right to be free from all forms of coercive questioning.

As for your ideas about sociopathy, that would require the belief that I alone am human, that all others are something less than human, here only for my uses. If I believe that aggressive methods are required but only justified by the need to save other Americans, then the definition of sociopath no longer applies, since I've demonstrated that I value other people outside of my own immediate group. Here's the difference. A sociopath would employ coercive means for their own sake; an interrogator uses them to elicit information to save lives. The motivation is the key factor.

OK, I answered your question. Are you going to answer mine?

Andy Axel's picture

I know you reproduced this

I know you reproduced this "crystalline thinking" over at your blog, Rich, but I'm not going to drive traffic to you or to debate you on your turf. But I will respond here.

Assume for the sake of argument that our captured subject is an al Qaida operative with knowledge of an imminent attack on American soil that will kill a large number of American citizens. He is our only lead on the operation, and getting information from him represents our only chance to save American lives. For this argument, we will state that the captive, despite not fitting the description of a lawful combatant will be treated in full accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Art. 17 of the Conventions states that POWs shall not be subjected to any coercive treatment of any kind in order to elicit information.

Here's the faulty part of this "assumption," though -- and the dangerous leap of logic inherent in this formulation:

You're [falsely] assuming that you know that this guy has the information you want.

Put it another way: Have you ever watched one of those Hold 'Em poker tournaments where they show you what everyone's hole cards are? The game is a lot easier to play, isn't it? You know that the dude in the red hat has a pair of aces, and the schmuck with the sunglasses is drawing dead.

But if you're at the table, the only guy that knows that he holds a pair of aces is the guy holding the pair of aces.

Relate this to an interrogation. You, as the interrogator, don't ultimately *know* that any suspect holds any useful information at all. You have him in custody, and you've characterized him as "your only lead" for whatever reason. (I'm trying to get with the spirit of this "sake of argument," despite the forumulation being desperately stilted and non-real-world.) But there's a gulf of difference between the information which leads you to believe that this guy has the information you want, and the information which this guy actually has.

What this leads you to doing, in practice, is to assume that everyone is the guy with the information which would save 3,000 American lives. How can you assume any different?

In the end, using your set of assumptions, it doesn't matter that you risk 1 or 10 or 100 or 10,000 or even 1,000,000 American lives -- because you start with the assumption that a single suspect and his "special knowledge" is key to saving even one person, so you'll gleefully beat the living shit out of anyone who you think is going to give up that information.

I have no doubts that you believe that you see the world like the President "must see it." More's the pity, really. When your only tool is a hammer, the whole world looks like nails.

But to fast-forward through to your parting shot, I doubt you've actually learned anything in this exercise. You came here under the assumption that you already knew the answers, and all you did was look for evidence that you were right.

____________________________

On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning. --H. Thoreau

R. Neal's picture

I doubt you've actually

I doubt you've actually learned anything in this exercise.

He didn't say he learned anything. He said he "learned what he came here to learn." In other words, it sounds more like he came to confirm his preconcieved idea that liberals and Democrats are soft on terror because they don't support the idea of torture. I guess he can include some prominent Repulicans too, however. Guys like Colin Powell.

Rich Hailey's picture

I'm Done

Interesting conversation, particularly with Socialist. My thanks to R.(IANWTCHR) Neal for allowing it to rage on.

Clearly, defining torture is difficult for many reasons, only one of which is the subjective nature of the word. In my opinion, that's all the more reason why we need an operational definition, a line that we can point to and say "This far and no further." Some on the other side are saying that any line is too far; rather than limiting torture, it would legitimize it to some extent. As for the Geneva Conventions, I believe that you take them as a whole, apply them where they say to, and don't extend them beyond their scope. Some on the other side believe they should apply to everyone everywhere, regardless of whether they actually apply, and regardless of the cost. I also believe that all treaties are the same; once breached by one side,they are no longer binding on the other sides. There is no qualitative difference between the Geneva Conventions and any other international treaty. Some on the other side believe that there is something, however vaguely sensed, that is different about the Conventions, and that we should adhere to them unilaterally in order to hold some ill-defined moral high ground.

Which side is right? The discussion has gone long enough to leave the realm of debate and to devolve into angry words and attacks.

So I'm done with it. I learned what I came to learn.

Y'all take care.

CBT's picture

Thanks Rich. Don't be a

Thanks Rich. Don't be a stranger.

airrn's picture

Geneva Conventions

Frontline did an excellent story and breakdown on this subject and how the rules apply.

I am not sure if anyone has pointed it out or not, but does it really matter whether they are enemy combatents or not? Did we not sign and are we not a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Anonymous's picture

Bottom Line

People the bottom line is this: torture doesn't work. A person being tortured will say whatever they think their interrogator wants to hear to stop the torture.
We are supposed to be a “Christian” nation. Our leaders claim to be born again Christians. Christians are supposed to be “Christ-like”. How many people did Jesus torture? That our leaders even want to consider torturing other human beings is mind boggling. It can’t be justified by saying the other side is doing it so we should.

JaHu's picture

I have heard, but haven't

I have heard, but haven't seen where the law has it written, but even mentioning that you wish to use torture, is reason for imprisonment in this country. Is anyone here familiar with US law regarding torture, or if known could you post a link to it's location on the web, or post the law itself? Might make for good discussion.

Andy Axel's picture

Here's part of the language

Here's part of the language of the "compromise" bill, just worked out by Saint McCain and The Decider:

As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and to promulgate higher standards and administrative regulations for violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Ultimately, it's now up to the President to determine what the Geneva Conventions mean, and when and if they should apply. I suspect that this is the waiver that he's been barking about for the last week.

Keep this in mind when you hear the President's most faithful lapdog -- John McCain -- talking about how he's protecting our troops in the field.

____________________________

On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning. --H. Thoreau

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

"Compromise"

Despite all the bleating and crowing about "compromise," Bush got everything he wanted. The Dems in the Senate don't have the spine to filibuster this Constitutional trainwreck, so it'll be up to the Supreme Court to put a stop to it.

God, I hope John Paul Stevens lives until at least the end of January 2009.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Sven's picture

Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.

 
Horror and moral terror are your friends. 
 
 
Andy Axel's picture

Horror and moral terror are

Horror and moral terror are your friends.

Col. Kurtz was an optimist.

____________________________

On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning. --H. Thoreau

metulj's picture

 "Charging a man with

 "Charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."

 

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

SemiPundit's picture

Onward

The Bush administration has now put itself on a truer course toward its self-destruction. The problem is that when it goes down, so much around it gets sucked into the vortex.

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