Monday, June 05, 2006

We don't need no stinkin' Convention

The much-anticipated new Army regulations on interrogation are due out soon, and apparently they're going to decide to ignore the Geneva Convention in some cases.

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.

The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.

Good for the State Department. They understand something that the Pentagon apparently does not: that moving away from the Geneva Convention as the basis for prisoner treatment will be a gigantic PR disaster and eventually lead to problems when our own troops are captured. As the story points out:

President Bush's critics and supporters have debated whether it is possible to prove a direct link between administration declarations that it will not be bound by Geneva and events such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib or the killings of Iraqi civilians last year in Haditha, allegedly by Marines.

But the exclusion of the Geneva provisions may make it more difficult for the administration to portray such incidents as aberrations. And it undercuts contentions that U.S. forces follow the strictest, most broadly accepted standards when fighting wars.

"The rest of the world is completely convinced that we are busy torturing people," said Oona A. Hathaway, an expert in international law at Yale Law School. "Whether that is true or not, the fact we keep refusing to provide these protections in our formal directives puts a lot of fuel on the fire."

And all for what? Do they really think that "humiliating and degrading treatment" will lead to intelligence breakthroughs? The example cited -- questioning a suspect's manhood -- sounds benign enough, but doesn't really justify a wholesale exception to the Conventions. The collateral damage done just isn't worth the intelligence advantage gained.

It's a tough job, trying to draw a clear bright line through the murky business of interrogation. But abandoning even part of the Conventions is the wrong way to go. Humane treatment of prisoners is just one more way we distinguish ourselves from our enemies; by abandoning that practice, we take one more step down the road of becoming that which we fight.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good grief, it just doesn't stop with this administration. They can't get anything done politically because the vast majority of Americans are disapproving, but in the murky realm of The War Departement these things don't matter. Full steam ahead with shirking any and all sacred tenets in the pursuit of a right-wing ideologal agenda. Like you said, abandoning parts of the Geneva Conventions is among the worst possible things we could do. IMO it would also be insulting to part of what our grandfathers fought for in World War 2.
- Caracarn

6/05/2006 6:04 PM  

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