What kind of craziness do you get when you combine a Reagan-appointed former commandant of the Marine Corps with a former lawyer in the Reagan White House and give them space in the Washington Post to commenting on George W. Bush’s recent Executive Order on detainee treatment?
Let’s begin with the title: War Crimes and the White House.
And the subtitle: The Dishonor in a Tortured New ‘Interpretation’ of the Geneva Conventions.
It gets worse for Bush from there:
But we cannot in good conscience defend a decision that we believe has compromised our national honor and that may well promote the commission of war crimes by Americans and place at risk the welfare of captured American military forces for generations to come.
Last Friday, the White House issued an executive order attempting to “interpret” Common Article 3 [of the 1949 Geneva Conventions] with respect to a controversial CIA interrogation program. The order declares that the CIA program “fully complies with the obligations of the United States under Common Article 3,” provided that its interrogation techniques do not violate existing federal statutes (prohibiting such things as torture, mutilation or maiming) and do not constitute “willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency.”
In other words, as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not “done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual” — even if that is an inevitable consequence — the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in “willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse.”
It is firmly established in international law that treaties are to be interpreted in “good faith” in accordance with the ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America’s clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.
Clearly, the Bush administration is finding itself sitting off in its own isolated corner of Neoconlandia.
Bush’s Executive Order is worthless under two circumstances. First, it is meaningless in the Hague and 192 other countries. War crimes are war crimes, regardless of any “Executive Order” whether from George Bush or Adolph Hitler (about which, more later).
Policymakers should also keep in mind that violations of Common Article 3 are “war crimes” for which everyone involved — potentially up to and including the president of the United States — may be tried in any of the other 193 countries that are parties to the conventions.
Secondly, the Executive Order is meaningless if a U.S. court declares it unconstitutional. Torturers torture at their own risk. After all, there will eventually (most likely sooner rather than later) be a new administration that isn’t driving under the influence of Cheney. And some of us expect—and will demand—that war criminals be prosecuted whether at home or abroad.
But why must we even be debating the limits of torture in America? Why do we have a President who dishonors all Americans—who injures our national sense of honor, who trashes our moral standing with the rest of the world—by parsing the Geneva Conventions in order to justify inhumane treatment of prisoners?
We’ve seen this kind of thing before–dismissal of international law in the name of national security. On 6 June 1941, Adolph Hitler signed an “Executive Order” called Instructions on the Treatment of Political Commissars (my emphasis):
In the struggle against Bolshevism, we must not assume that the enemy’s conduct will be based on principles of humanity or of international law. In particular, hate-inspired, cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners can be expected on the part of all grades of political commissars, who are the real leaders of resistance…To show consideration to these elements during this struggle, or to act in accordance with international rules of war, is wrong and endangers both our own security and the rapid pacification of conquered territory…Political commissars have initiated barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare. Consequently, they will be dealt with immediately and with maximum severity. As a matter of principle, they will be shot at once, whether captured during operations or otherwise showing resistance.
So, replace Bolshevism with “Islamofascism,” replace political commissars with “enemy combatants,” replace Asiatic methods of warfare with “terrorism,” and you pretty much have a Bush stump speech. Of course, sometimes we ship ‘em to detention centers and torture them instead of immediately shooting them, but the parallels are stunning.
I find it disgusting that my President of my America is justifying the torture of prisoners using the same rationale that Hitler used to ignore international law.
Given today’s Washington Post commentary, it looks like there are some Righties with significant concerns, too.