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.)
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.