Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bush Administration Still Refusing to Comply with Geneva Convention

The LA Times had an article yesterday on the repeated refusal of the Bush Administration to fully comply with the Geneva Convention standards on prisoner treatment.

Although the US maintained compliance with the Geneva standards for decades, the Bush Administration decided to suspend portions of the rules in 2002.

A significant provision that was suspended is Common Article 3, which bans torture and cruel treatment of all detainees (traditional POWs and unlawful combatants). The suspension has allowed the Bush Administration to treat prisoners differently based upon how they choose to define them.

Here is what the LA Times article had to say about restoring Common Article 3 (emphasis mine):

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The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.

The Pentagon tried to satisfy some of the military lawyers' concerns by including some protections of Article 3 in the new policy, most notably a ban on inhumane treatment, but refused to embrace the actual Geneva standard in the directive it planned to issue.

The military lawyers, known as judge advocates general, or JAGs, have concluded that they will have to wait for a new administration before mounting another push to link Pentagon policy to the standards of Geneva.

"The JAGs came to the conclusion that this was the best they can get," said one participant familiar with the Defense Department debate who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the protracted controversy. "But it was a massive mistake to have withdrawn from Geneva. By backing away, you weaken the proposition that this is the baseline provision that is binding to all nations."

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The issue is heating up again now because the Pentagon is set to release a new Army Field Manual on interrogation, which will guide the practices of US soldiers around the world. The new manual is said to omit a key tenet of the Geneva standards that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners.

Despite all this evidence to the contrary, the White House continually insists the US is not torturing or otherwise mistreating prisoners.

As Oona A. Hathaway of Yale Law School points out, whether torture is actually taking place is only part of the issue: "The rest of the world is completely convinced that we are busy torturing people. 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."

Let's hope it's not also providing the match that ignites the understandable fears and frustrations of our soldiers who are forced to operate on the front lines.

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