Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One worry addressed

Answering one of my worries about the sudden embrace of the Geneva Conventions by the Bush administration, there's some good news.

But first, some context.

The detainees are not being afforded the full protection that a uniformed soldier would get from the Conventions. What they do get is Article 3, which mandates certain minimum standards that must be applied to everyone, not just signatories or regular soldiers. Detainees 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:

* violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
* taking of hostages;
* outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
* 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.

That's it. The last two items are the most important, prohibiting most forms of torture and speaking to the potential legality of Bush's proposed tribunals.

So with that caveat, we have the following details from the story:

President George W. Bush declared in 2002 that Article 3 did not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but ordered that they be treated humanely "subject to military necessity."

It turned out that "military necessity" left the door open for some of the interrogation techniques observed by FBI agents. Which really spells out the difference between voluntarily following the Conventions and being required to follow them.

The Supreme Court ruling overrides that declaration. But there was some ambiguity, as I noted in my initial post on the ruling -- notably, whether this would apply to prisoners in nonmilitary facilities.

It does.

The Bush administration said all detainees in its war on terrorism are covered by Article 3, without making any distinction between those in military custody and those in custody of agencies such as the

Good. Next step: establishing a fair and reasonably transparent method for detainees to challenge their detention, and coming up with a system for determining how long each will be held. In that way we can move them out of the deservedly embarrassing legal limbo they've been living in and back under the rule of law.

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