Geneva Who?

The new Pentagon guidelines for detainee treatment do not mention the relevant parts of the Geneva Convention:

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans “humiliating and degrading treatment,” according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

Sad. Via Steve Benen.

*** Update ***

This update is by John- I thought it would be easier than a whole new post on the topic. At any rate, if Andrew Sullivan’s accounting of how this has happened is accurate, I am hard -pressed to disagree with this assessment:

The United States is a rogue nation that practices torture and detainee abuse and does not follow the most basic principles of the Geneva Conventions. It is inviolation of human rights agreements and the U.N. Convention against torture. It is legitimizing torture by every disgusting regime on the planet. This is a policy mandated by the president and his closest advisers. This is the signal being sent from the commander-in-chief to his troops: your enemy can be treated beyond the boundaries of what the U.S. has always abided by. When you next read of an atrocity of war-crime or victim of torture by the U.S., just keep in mind who made this possible. Keep your eyes not just on the troops but on the people giving them the orders.

The next time an Abu Ghraib happens (and there will be a next), there will be no wiggle room for Cheney et. al., and those who blindly support this administration are going to have to find new ways to call us all traitors or pussies because we want safeguards put in place for the humane treatment of prisoners. Maybe another Gitmo cookbook will do the trick.

*** Update #2 ***

(This update is also by John, and not Tim, so direct your flaming appropriately.)

Jeff Goldstein dislikes Andrew’s hyperbole (and any way you cut it, it is hyperbolic), and points to this James Joyner piece:

The Pentagon and Intelligence Community have valid concerns. For a variety of reasons, terrorists do not deserve the same level of protection as uniformed enemy prisoners of war. Further, the language of Article 3 is rather ambiguous when applied across cultures, especially the wide gulf between the West and the Muslim world.

Still, this is an incredibly hamhanded way of addressing these concerns. Even though our enemy by no means adheres to international law, our failure to do so undermines our moral authority. This is not a small thing, whether we’re talking about sustaining support at home, building coalitions with our Western partners, or even the “battle for hearts and minds” in the Arab world. That they don’t follow the Geneva protocols does not prevent our failure to do so from being used against us for propaganda purposes.

Furthermore, international law is almost invariably a matter of the United States and similarly-minded powers imposing our value system on the rest of the world, not vice versa. As such, it behooves us to live up to our agreements to maximize their legitimacy. To the extent changing circumstances make these agreements problematic, we should work to amend them.

That, however, is a can of worms we may wish to keep closed. That there is such a thing as human rights at all, let alone that they are universal, is hardly a consensus view. Seeking to clarify the rules for the sake of tailoring narrow exceptions may prove more trouble than it’s worth.

Unfortunately, it looks like the narrative of this debate has already taken place- this will become all about Sullivan’s statement, right-wing bloggers will spend countless hours flaying him alive for the statements all the while missing the fact that Cheney et. al. are making significant (or attempting to make) changes to Pentagon policy that has worked quite well for years.

If this were an isolated action, this attempt to rewrite the rules for the treatment of prisoners, it would be one thing. But it isn’t- it is right out of the administration’s playbook- create gray areas, remove protections, and release the United States from any accountability for actions the rest of the world (and a goodly portion of the United States) find deplorable. If we have learned anything about the torture debate in the past few years, it is that there is no need to torture/abuse/humiliate (no,they are not all the same thing) prisoners, and that there are far more productive ways to extract information. Couple this with the fact that many of the prisoners we have detained over the past few years have no information to offer, and this is just another bad idea lumped on a whole lot of other bad ideas.

So while it may be fun to make jokes at Andrew’s expense (calling him Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) comes to mind, it seems to me the very definition of a rogue nation is one that simply does as it chooses and wholly disregards longstanding international consensus. I guess it would be pointless to note that Andrew has been right more than certain quarters of the blogosphere regarding the policy consequences regarding torture and abuse, but that would, I am afraid, go unnoticed in what will certainly become the new pile-on.

One final note- Jeff seems to spend a great deal of time worrying that by leaving protections in place for prisoners leaves us open to charges of torture, as the lines between between torture and humiliation will have been muddied:

I disagree with James here on certain points—specifically, I think our tendency to define down torture to include “humiliation”, along with “humiliation’s” effectiveness as an interrogation tactic against an honor and shame culture, has precipitated the Pentagon’s changes moreso than some slippage of our own moral authority—which is to say, I think the changes simply pragmatic, both as a response to a Western culture so steeped in PC posturing that has lost the ability to recognize torture and distinguish it from other (legal) techniques for gleaning information from enemy captures who are not part of some standing army (and so should not be given Geneva Convention treatment).

Two quick points-

1.) My preference would be to leave the protections in place and deal with false charges when they arise. It would seem to me that working from a position of moral authority would make it easier to defend false accusations, rather than removing all protections and saying “That’s not torture! This is!”

2.) Jeff doesn’t think this is torture:

The modern practice of waterboarding involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. However, it is relatively difficult to aspirate a large amount of water since the lungs are higher than the mouth, and the victim is unlikely to actually die if this is done by skilled practitioners. Waterboarding may be used by captors who wish to impose anguish without leaving marks on their victims as evidence.

This is a technique demonstrated on U.S. military personnel by other U.S. military personnel when they are being taught to resist enemy interrogations in the event of capture (see SERE).

If certain folks had their way, in the torture/humiliation/abuse debate, that would be considered a ‘mild rebuke.’ I think it is torture, so clearly we have a gulf in what we think is and is not acceptable treatment for prisoners that goes beyond a simple disagreement about Pentagon guidelines.

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43 replies
  1. 1
    Mr Furious says:

    I’m sure they’re covering that as part of the new “Ethics Training.”

  2. 2
    Mr Furious says:

    One word. “Quaint.”

  3. 3
    Andrew says:

    This seems like a reasonable compromise position to me. At least the regulations have part of the Geneva Convention, if not the whole thing. Extremists on both sides of this issue think in absolutes, and you can’t have a reasonable conversation without them calling you a moonbat or wingnut. We have some middle common ground to work towards on torturing captives, and we can’t get there if we spend all of our time questioning the patriotism of the left or the neocon conspiracies of the right.

  4. 4
    rachel says:

    This seems like a reasonable compromise position to me. At least the regulations have part of the Geneva Convention, if not the whole thing. Extremists on both sides of this issue think in absolutes, and you can’t have a reasonable conversation without them calling you a moonbat or wingnut. We have some middle common ground to work towards on torturing captives, and we can’t get there if we spend all of our time questioning the patriotism of the left or the neocon conspiracies of the right.

    Is this an example of the fallacy of the false middle?

  5. 5
    Punchy says:

    Nice timing, guys. Right smack in the middle of the Haditha massacre investigations and other investigations into additional potential murders by US troops…NOW they decide is a good time to explicitly exempt themselves from Geneva…

    I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. I’m guessing the Pentagon WANTED to get caught trying to push this through..there’s no other way to justify its incredibly poor timing.

  6. 6
    capelza says:

    Punchy, it does boggle the mind doesn’t it.

  7. 7
    mrmobi says:

    We have some middle common ground to work towards on torturing captives…


    Oh boy. I’m sure the administration is happy to have this kind of enabling, but they really don’t need it. They will do what they want to do, when they want to do it. Pass whatever laws you want, The Supreme Decider will just append a signing statement which will allow him to break whichever law he just signed. Laws are such a bother, aren’t they?

    The linked article from the LA Times indicates that the JAGs who were trying to get the missing sections of the Geneva Convention inserted have given up “at least until a new administration takes over.” I’m glad they at least tried. But I guess it’s ok, because the boss said NO, and he’s exempt from the law, isn’t he? Two more years of this, kids. What fun we’re going to have…

  8. 8

    I’m not being snarky on this one…(just so you know)

    I actually do think the Geneva conventions are not reasonable. That is, it’s all nice to have and everything, but you just really can’t fight a war which follows Miss Manners guide for polite dinner conversation.

    That being said, I don’t think it is helpful to the United States to abandon something that we were largely responsible for making happen. We should not abandon laws, we should articulate and argue why such law is not a good thing. I realize that is more difficult, but it does less damage to our country in the long run.

    Anyway, this thing tends to piss me off, considering the number of times I heard James Baker say “Rule of Law” in Florida in 2000. Makes me want to punch him in the nose.

  9. 9

    […] Geneva Who? […]

  10. 10
    nyrev says:

    Andrew,

    We have some middle common ground to work towards on torturing captives,

    I know you’re getting it from all sides today, but really, this is ridiculous.

    Middle ground on torture? Like, it’s okay to sodomize someone with a broom handle, but not a rusty pipe? Either torture is wrong or it’s not. There isn’t a middle ground there.

    “A little bit tortured” is like “a little bit pregnant.” If you believe that the US doesn’t have to abide by Article 3, then you are in the pro-torture camp. To pretend that there’s some kind of torture compromise is just hypocritical.

  11. 11
    Perry Como says:

    We have some middle common ground to work towards on torturing captives

    Well played sir.

  12. 12
    ppGaz says:

    I think that the official policy position should be something like “Remember, a little torture goes a long way.”

    That walks the line pretty well, doesn’t it? A good middle-of-the-road approach.

  13. 13
    Punchy says:

    I actually do think the Geneva conventions are not reasonable. That is, it’s all nice to have and everything, but you just really can’t fight a war which follows Miss Manners guide for polite dinner conversation.

    Agreed, sort of. However, if you’re going to beat your wife, and maybe she needs it, but it’s still against the law and all…DON’T FUCKING PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE YOU’RE ABOUT TO IGNORE THE WIFE-BEATING LAW. Even if you do throw some haymakers. Even if she’s drug-addicted and needs some “rough hands” (trying to keep this Iraq prisoner analogy reasonable), you simply do it and shut the fuck up about it. The LAST thing the Pentagon should do is tell the whole fucking world that if you’re captured, you’re going to be tortured.

    Can’t wait to see how hard they fight now, knowing capture means sure torture. Fucking retards running this country…

  14. 14
    D. Mason says:

    On thing this situation desperately needs is a clear definition of the word torture. I know it seems like one of those things that’s easy to figure out for yourself, but ambiguities leave wiggle room, something dubya seems to love almost as much as lying.

  15. 15
    ppGaz says:

    On thing this situation desperately needs is a clear definition of the word torture.

    Good point. We need a religious examination of the issue. Let’s call the Scientologists.

    I think this is something that can be settled with the E-Meter.

  16. 16

    Tawanda Goldstein’s wantoness to torture people reminds me of that old Stalin joke.

    One morning Stalin was looking for his pipe and could not find it anywhere. He called in Beria and demanded he launch an investigation to find out who stole his pipe.

    A few hours later, Stalin opened his desk drawer and upon finding his pipe was located there asked for Beria to call off the investigation.

    Beria answered, “But sir, we’ve already found six people who admit to having stolen your pipe.”

    And anyone like Goldstein who is really into sado-masochism, should read some of the descriptions of dissidents who were force fed by the Soviets when they tried hunger strikes. It’s basically a lot like how a doctor feeds someone in a coma. They shove a tube down the nose and into the stomach.

    It’s a perfectly acceptable medical procedure, really.

    But try doing it without anesthesia.

  17. 17

    Apparently the force-feeding thing is popular with the Chinese against the Falun-Gong.

    Actually, there’s all kinds of cool torture techniques for Tawanda to get her jollies from reading about.

    http://www.faluninfo.net/torturemethods2/

  18. 18
    Andrew says:

    I think this is something that can be settled with the E-Meter.

    However, when attached to the testicles, the E-meter may infringe upon the Geneva Conventions. Then again, Tom Cruise movies may also constitute torture.

  19. 19
    Steve says:

    Which parts of the Geneva Conventions are unreasonable, exactly? I mean, I see stuff like “you must pay captured POWs an hourly wage” and I think wow, that’s pretty odd. But what is it about these “quaint” provisions that makes it impossible to simultaneously follow them and prosecute a war?

  20. 20
    Punchy says:

    Perhaps Atrios is right, after all. Goldstein MUST eat paste. This is simply incredible:

    For a variety of reasons, terrorists do not deserve the same level of protection as uniformed enemy prisoners of war

    He, and every other “journalist”, KNOWS the bastardization of the word “terrorist” has led to anyone resisting US troops barging thru their door being labeled a “terrorist”. Everyone with a gun protecting their family is a “terrorist” in Iraq. Dilute the definition any further, and suddenly every Brown Guy with a raised middle finger becomes a “terrorist” with no protections….

    Real terrorists, with bombs, money, concrete plans, and motivation? Sure. But that’s probably 3% of all the Brown Guys they’re rounding up, and nobody, especially Bush, is willing to make that all-important distinction.

    Waterboarding not torture? Gimmie a fucking break.

  21. 21
    canuckistani says:

    For a variety of reasons, suspected terrorists do not deserve the same level of protection as uniformed enemy prisoners of war

    Missing word there.

  22. 22
    ppGaz says:

    However, when attached to the testicles, the E-meter may infringe upon the Geneva Conventions

    It all depends on who you can get to attach them.

  23. 23
    Anderson says:

    Goldstein would presumably endorse terrorists’ getting their faces slapped with his dick, so of course he’s against applying Article 3.

    This notion that rules against abuse and torture are made to be broken, AND THAT WE CAN TRUST THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH TO UNILATERALLY AND UNREVIEWABLY BREAK THE RULES, is not even worth discussing. Anyone who holds such a view is wicked, or stupid, or a paste-eater. Not that those are mutually exclusive or anything.

  24. 24

    For a variety of reasons, terrorists do not deserve the same level of protection as uniformed enemy prisoners of war

    Perhaps Tawanda thinks the Nazis deserved to be treated with respect more than the Terrorists?

    I’m not certain what that says about her argument, though.

  25. 25
    Perry Como says:

    Waterboarding not torture? Gimmie a fucking break.

    Perhaps Bukkake Logic is thinking of the time he was in the chair tilting his head back and someone poured tequila and sour mix in his mouth.

    Water boarding is tasty! My cat’s breath smells like cat food!

  26. 26
    Anderson says:

    Oh, while I’m Goldstein-bashing, a commenter at OTB passes along this bit of Protein Wisdom:

    By “circumspection,” in this instance, what I mean to say is that a Democratic administration would have waited until they were positive Saddam had the weapons. At which point they would have rattled their sabres and issued threats absolutely loaded with threatening language.

    Of course, by then, they’d have reason not to go to war—for fear that these sinister weapons would be used against our own killbots in the military, whom they love so much, but who, let’s face it, are only in the military because they can’t get other jobs and are for the most part either poor Mexicans, Blacks, or souther white trailer trash.

    That’s May 25, 2006, over 3 years into the Iraq War, that Goldstein wrote this, and after we’ve buried almost 2,500 of those employment-impaired killbots.

    What. An. Asshole.

  27. 27
    Anderson says:

    Oops, forgot the PW link. God knows, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I could make that shit up.

  28. 28
    Mr Furious says:

    Since the Republicans like to pretend everything torture relates nicely to a Jack Bauer-type ticking timebomb scenario, I like to go right along with the hypothetical…

    Torture should be illegal. Period. When Jack Bauer or another TV hero type “breaks a few eggs” or legs, noses or anything else, they do so with the specific knowledge that they are acting OUTSIDE THE LAW, but the situation is so grave that they are willing to risk breaking the law and what comes with that, to save the three million nuclear bomb victims or the kidnapped buried alive child or whatever they are after.

    Even in the fantasy scenario Bush-apologists like to assert, the only reason this behavior is viewed as heroic or noble is bacuse it goes beyond the rules to get results. If Jack Bauer kills a bunch of guys at lunch because he’s bored, he’s getting the chair. If he kills a bunch of terrorists to save the city, he’s acting in self-defense. If he tortures a bunch of guys to foil their plot, and he proves correct, President Palmer will pardon him.

    It’s that fucking simple, people. You don’t fucking change the laws ahead of time to fit the extreme circumstance. You justify your actions outside the law, after the fact. Preemptively making things legal is a ticket for abuse. Keeping things illegal is a necessary brake.

  29. 29
    Sirkowski says:

    Mr Furious, you’re using too many syllables for the common Republicant.

  30. 30
    RSA says:

    Excellent summary, Mr. Furious. Part of what makes fictional characters like Jack Bauer seem noble, even if they do terrible things, is that they’re willing to do it and take the punishment for it, all for the greater good. Bush and company are trying to wipe out the accountability moment. Bush has been getting away with it for his entire life, I guess.

  31. 31
    Pharniel says:

    I recently saw ‘waterboarding’ in practice.
    it relies on an autonomic reflex that is universal in all healthy human brains.
    It’s pretty fucking horrible, and if the author of that quote doesn’t think it’s horrible he should prolly look on the net for some various examples of it applied in practice.
    http://www.waterbondage.com comes to mind.
    Also, humiliation can be far worse than physical pain and much more long lasting.

    In other words, if i go to, say, the washington archive on sexuality, and see something listed as ‘edge play’, i’d say it qualifies as torture.

    the fact that 90% of the blogosphere has never actually witnessed or experinced proper application of these techniques speaks to our advancement as a culture. Thier willfull ignorance of the horrors capable with just the hands that ‘leave no marks’ is simple, well, i’d say a one way ticket to hell. but i’m just overly optomistic.

  32. 32
    Pharniel says:

    Torture: n. if you search for “torture”, “bdsm” or “interrogations” in google; just about any video you find.
    Especially pay sites.

  33. 33
    Don says:

    So interesting. I read this:

    For a variety of reasons, terrorists do not deserve the same level of protection as uniformed enemy prisoners of war

    And my thought was, exactly true. And exactly why we should give them to them anyway, regardless of what they deserve. The view’s pretty good from up on the moral high ground.

  34. 34
    Darrell says:

    Also, humiliation can be far worse than physical pain and much more long lasting

    I think this is a typical example of what many are afraid.. The dilution of the definition of torture to include things like ‘humiliation’.. it follows that loud yelling will be next. It’s already happened to some extent – The Geneva Conventions Article III forbids:

    (c ) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

  35. 35
    ppGaz says:

    I

    think this is a typical example of what many are afraid

    Oh yeah, that’s what keeps people awake at night, in these times of Perpetual Yellow Terror Threat Level.

    Fear that torture will get “dumbed down” to noogies.

  36. 36
    Bruce Moomaw says:

    If you want another clear indication as to what Cheney and Rumsfeld are REALLY up to with this move, just take a look at the last two lines of the LA Times article:

    “But top administration officials contend that after the Sept. 11 attacks, old customs do not apply, especially to a fight against terrorists or insurgents who never play by the rules.

    ” ‘The overall thinking,’ said the participant familiar with the defense debate, “is that they need the flexibility to apply cruel techniques if military necessity requires it.”

    Not “degrading” or “humilating” — CRUEL. If this — combined with other indicators, such as the ready willingness of so many Bush/Cheney supporters to describe waterboarding as non-torture — isn’t an indicator that the Three Stooges (B., C. and R.) are cranking up to define flat-out torture as mere “degradation”, I am Marie of Rumania. And now it’s going to be officially applied to POWs in general.

    As Mark Kleiman points out, isn’t it interesting that we have yet to hear a whisper from Sen. McCain, aka Mr. Straight Talk, about this? His amendment, after all, expilcitly outlawed “degrading” treatment of prisoners.

  37. 37
    Anderson says:

    N.b. that the person quoted on “cruelty” in Bruce’s article, sounds like an opponent of the Pentagon’s maneuver, based on earlier quotation in the article.

    Just sayin’.

  38. 38
    Bruce Moomaw says:

    As an additional indicator, by the way, note that that unnamed commentator for the Times mentioned not just “terrorists”, but “insurgents” in general. That is, the US is now about to start torturing captured combatants in a guerrilla war, not sub rosa (as we did in the Filipino War and the Vietnam War), but openly and as official policy.

    That will go over REAL big — but what do the Three Stooges care about that? They’ll be in office for another 2 1/2 years; until then, nobody can stop them from doing whatever they wish; and somebody else will have to clean up their mess. There really are times when I think that Cheney and Rumsfeld are closet Leni Riefenstahl fans — they’re certainly enthusiasts for the Triumph of the Will.

  39. 39
    Perry Como says:

    There really are times when I think that Cheney and Rumsfeld are closet Leni Riefenstahl fans

    I was thinking Carl Schmitt, but they could be fans of both.

  40. 40

    […] UPDATE: John Cole’s words. My thoughts. The next time an Abu Ghraib happens (and there will be a next), there will be no wiggle room for Cheney et. al., and those who blindly support this administration are going to have to find new ways to call us all traitors or pussies because we want safeguards put in place for the humane treatment of prisoners. […]

  41. 41

    WAR: Rewriting The Army Field Manual

    Jon Henke points us to this LA Times article citing anonymous sources discussing revisions supposedly* being made to the Army Field Manual regarding interrogation of detainees in response to the McCain Amendment, which was designed to raise the standar…

  42. 42
    Pharniel says:

    whoops. prolly should have said this erlier.
    wonder if anyone will read this:
    all torture works on humiliation and isolation.
    The humiliation comes from loss of control. whatever it is you are doing, or forcing them to do, they don’t want to do.
    pain is the easist thing to inflict and controll, so is movement, so they’re usually combined in what we think of as torture, but it’s hard to effectivly use it for someone who’s REALLY determined.
    especially if they’ve got a martyr complex, because then they’ve taken control from the people who are performing the interrogation. They have made a choice, consenting if you will, to go through it all becase they’re doing it “for the cause”.

    anyway, there are ways to utterly break people and re-build them how you want, and stress positions, sleep dep, tempeture control, all these minor things are just added bonuses. it’s really about control. when you sleep. when you eat. institutionalization. once you’ve got them that far, you win.
    the problem is that that takes time, and is rarely worth it in an intellegence capacity, because by then, well, anything worth knowing you already know.

    so, uh, and i hope this is legible, humiliation and isolation are the basis of torture (coming from a loss of control); to pretend otherwise is to forget what you are attempting to achieve. and there are easily better ways of getting information.

  43. 43
    Davebo says:

    Just curious John,

    Given your previous statements about removing people from your blogroll who refuse to adhere to an online ethics pledge can we assume that you are contractually required to keep Protein Wisdom on your blogroll?

    And if so are you unable to get out of said contractual requirement, or were you never all that serious about pledges of online ethics?

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  1. WAR: Rewriting The Army Field Manual

    Jon Henke points us to this LA Times article citing anonymous sources discussing revisions supposedly* being made to the Army Field Manual regarding interrogation of detainees in response to the McCain Amendment, which was designed to raise the standar…

  2. […] UPDATE: John Cole’s words. My thoughts. The next time an Abu Ghraib happens (and there will be a next), there will be no wiggle room for Cheney et. al., and those who blindly support this administration are going to have to find new ways to call us all traitors or pussies because we want safeguards put in place for the humane treatment of prisoners. […]

  3. […] Geneva Who? […]

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