Sunday, April 27, 2008

Justice Department: Torture of Prisoners is Justified Despite Geneva Convention

The New York Times has just released Justice Department letters stating the government’s official opinion on the torturing of prisoners, vis-Ă -vis the Geneva Convention, illuminating for the first time the rationale behind still-secret CIA interrogation rules.

It seems, according to the Justice Department, that how you interrogate a prisoner very much depends on who the prisoner is, and how desirable is the information they hope to extract. Once a prisoner is classified as a “terrorist”, new rules apply. If the person is deemed to possess information that is considered important, new rules apply. From The Times:

“‘The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,’ said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.”
Torture, then is OK when it is done on someone in order to extract desirable information on future terror attacks, but not OK when the whole idea is to inflict humiliation on prisoners, or to generally abuse them.

In other words, if you are inflicting pain on a prisoner because of it gives one some sadistic pleasure, that’s bad. Only when you hope to get some useful information is it justified.

And the prisoner must be labeled a terrorist. That seems to be an important element of the opinions.

The casual observer would wonder what is the harm in that? Isn’t that a reasonable approach in a terrorist situation?

The problem is one of definition. One nation’s “terrorist” is another nation’s “freedom fighter”. Were the Minutemen of Massachusetts terrorists? Were the Sandinistas? What about the soldiers and militias that have put into power several African governments? If we go about labeling each and every person who takes up arms against America or any sovereign government, terrorists, especially when they are fighting on their own soil, it at least calls into question America’s credibility. At most, it gives each and every future adversary of the United States a rationale for torture of our own soldiers.

Something that the signatories of the Geneva Convention hoped to avoid.

Senator Ron Wyden (D - Oregon), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seems to agree with this assessment:

“If the United States used subjective standards in applying its interrogation rules, he said, then potential enemies might adopt different standards of treatment for American detainees based on an officer’s rank or other factors. ‘The cumulative effect in my interpretation is to put American troops at risk,’ Mr. Wyden said.“
I guess the next time we hear about our troops being abused at the hands of their captors (and that day will come, as it has now been guaranteed) we will all know who to blame: George Bush and his malignant Department of Justice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yep. It's the "bad guy" law. You have all your rights, unless the President says you're a bad guy. This differs from a dictatorship how....?