Thursday, June 16, 2005

Gitmo and the Geneva Conventions

Okay, the Bush administration now says tht the "Detainees" at Gitmo can be held in perpetuity. Many are decrying this decision, saying that it violates the Geneva Conventions.
Seems to me, from my ancient memories of the Law of War, they are specifically not protected by the Conventions. In order to get the protections, you had to be a member of an organized force, easily identifiable by uniforms and/or equipment. Violations of these rules could be punished by execution.
The whole reason that civilized countries abide by the rules of war, are so that their prisoners are treated humanely. Think about how the terrorists treat their prisoners - beheading, and contrast that with how we treat our prisoners - humiliation. To say that these are equivalent (See Sen. Durbin) is to make a mockery of the discussion.
After years of therapy and counselling, you can overcome wearing panties on your head. Try to overcome being beheaded.


Wulfgar said...

That is indeed ascrewed up way of comparison. What you are arguing is this: it's okay for the US to abuse because our enemies abuse worse. ???? How about this, instead, it is not okay for the US to abuse because it is a) against our founding principles and current laws and guidelines for civil rights, both with our own citizens and with nationals of other countries, b)not the actions that a morally superior (free) nation would take, and c) there has yet to be shown any ... ANY ... substantive gain from the use of abusive measures.

Further, the Geneva convention argument is indeed nullified now that we've come up with the handy designate of "enemy combattant". So please point your readers to the legal guidelines for the treatment of such. I'll wait.


You can find legal opinions concerning how we can handle their treatment, but no binding legal statute as to a) an assessment of their actually guilt or status (it would seem that you're an enemy combattant just because someone said so, and that's just okay) or b) no legal definition that clearly defines abuse from "interrogative technique". Those things should bother you. They should damn well bother any American, period. My country doesn't disappear people from their homes, and then submit them to cages and abuse, with no legal reason to do so. Does yours?

A moral person doesn't just want to be better than the terrorists. A moral person wants the best for our country, and the actions at Gitmo ain't it.

Steve said...

Wulfgar, always a pleasure to have you visit, especially since I have burned up so many pixels on your lovely site.
Now to the answer: -
The Status Of Detained Al Qaeda And Taliban Fighters
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002

According to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters currently being held captive at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not prisoners of war, but "unlawful combatants." What's the difference?

The short answer is that a prisoner of war is entitled to the protections set forth in the 1949 Geneva Convention. In contrast, an unlawful combatant is a fighter who does not play by the accepted rules of war, and therefore does not qualify for the Convention's protections.

Buried within that short answer, however, are a host of complexities and troubling implications.

Are al Qaeda Fighters Prisoners of War?

First, what does it take to qualify as a prisoner of war? Article IV of the Geneva Convention states that members of irregular militias like al Qaeda qualify for prisoner-of-war status if their military organization satisfies four criteria.
[[Prisoners or unlawful combatants?]]

The criteria are: "(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; [and] (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war."

Al Qaeda does not satisfy these conditions. Perhaps Osama bin Laden could be considered "a person responsible for his subordinates," although the cell structure of al Qaeda belies the notion of a chain of command. But in any event, al Qaeda members openly flout the remaining three conditions.

Al Qaeda members deliberately attempt to blend into the civilian population - violating the requirement of having a "fixed distinctive sign" and "carrying arms openly." Moreover, they target civilians, which violates the "laws and customs of war."

Thus, al Qaeda members need not be treated as prisoners of war.

Okay, now to your specific complaints. A. Current laws do not apply to them, and they do not deserve civil rights. Their objective is terror, not the gaining of any military advantage. They seek only to demoralize us, not to actually prevail militarily. To offer protections to them, is to validate their actions.
B. True, not necessarily the actions of a moral nation, sometimes ruthlessness has its advantages. For instance, during the 70s, a Russian diplomat was kidnapped in the Middle East. The KGB came in and killed all of the kidnappers extended families. Ruthless? Absolutely, but they never had any more kidnappings after that. In the calculus of morality, which is better, acting morally, which causes more people to die, or to act ruthlessly, and stop further actions which necessitate such ruthlessness?
As to the gain of intelligence. The flaw in your logic is that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. We don't know what has been learned from these techniques that is useful, because we will never let out what we know.