June 22, 2004

Who Cares?

by PG

I was reading the International Herald Tribune last week and came across an article about some findings from the 9/11 commission. One of them included information that, according to the article, was obtained from terrorist ringleader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

I'd been debating the issue of torture lately, and thus wondered: How did we get this information out of KSM? What methods were required? Was the Geneva Convention violated?

But then again, this was a man who helped to plan the attack on the World Trade Center. Do we really mind if he was psychologically or physically tortured in some way, if it helps us piece together what happened that day?

June 22, 2004 01:20 PM | TrackBack

I'll assume irony here, PG.

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at June 22, 2004 02:48 PM

PG has a way of shouting out surprising bursts of conservativism. I too wonder how this was meant.

Posted by: Chris at June 22, 2004 03:19 PM

The Geneva Conventions were not violated. Protected status is only afforded to those who act on behalf of recognized states, who wear uniforms or distinctive clothing, etc. KSM fulfills none of those requirements.

That doesn't mean that the treatment of KSM hasn't violated one of the scores of other human rights agreements out there, though.

Posted by: Centrist at June 22, 2004 05:49 PM

Or, you know, just simple human decency. Which, since we're going after al'Qaeda for completely ignoring it, would make us hypocrites if we were doing the same thing. Not that hypocrisy seems to bother anyone much anymore.


Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at June 22, 2004 08:34 PM

The title was meant ironically, but not all of the post. A friend and I have been trading emails about whether the American people would disapprove of any POW/criminal receiving any treatment that would violate human rights agreements. For example, would a majority of Americans be troubled by a violation of Convention 3, Art. 38?
('While respecting the individual preferences of every prisoner, the Detaining Power shall encourage the practice of intellectual, educational, and recreational pursuits, sports and games amongst prisoners, and shall take the measures necessary to ensure the exercise thereof by providing them with adequate premises and necessary equipment.
Prisoners shall have opportunities for taking physical exercise, including sports and games, and for being out of doors. Sufficient open spaces shall be provided for this purpose in all camps.')

Particularly if we used deprivation as a technique for obtaining information... would it be OK if KSM was not allowed to leave a 6'x8' cell until he gave up some info re: 9/11?

Posted by: PG at June 23, 2004 06:22 AM

Don't go with the most mild part of the Geneva Conventions that you could accept being violated. An honest assessment of whether we'd "mind" torture would have to be the most possibly egregious violation you'd accept being violated in the name of obtaining information. That's the only honest way to react to Chris's and my confusion.

You said: "Do we really mind if he was psychologically or physically tortured in some way, if it helps us piece together what happened that day?" This is the part that I have an issue with, and it's the part that disturbs me the most.

Deprivation of the pursuit of knowledge or exercise isn't what had all of us up in arms, and it wouldn't constitute torture. As far as violating the Geneva Conventions goes, it wouldn't even rate an A16 page in the back of the Washington Post.

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at June 23, 2004 09:15 AM

Right, Kenneth, but it's precisely the vagueness of 'Geneva violation' and 'torture' that troubled my friend with regard to the media coverage. Certain things like forcing prisoners to sodomize one another were No Duh immoral and illegal, but other acts like having prisoners stand in a tiny space for many hours were less deserving of condemnation.
I picked a mild violation to illustrate that the Geneva Conventions are highly detailed and include some requirements that most people would be OK with ignoring. (Although if it is official policy to ignore them, our government shouldn't have signed on to them, but that's another post.)

What I'm trying to tease out is the line between 'acceptable deprivations or pressure' and 'torture.' Maybe this actually is very obvious to everyone else, but so far all I've seen are the extremes: no exercise on the one hand; dogs snapping at naked men on the other. This is useless for having a serious discussion about what constitutes permissible interrogation techniques. Everyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that the latter is wrong, but your response indicates that the former would be OK. So where does one draw the line?

Posted by: PG at June 24, 2004 06:44 AM

I don't say that it'd be okay, PG; it would clearly be a violation. However, there are violations and there are violations, and you have to go with what the public would be willing to accept and what would make the news to even see if they would be upset with the violation.

Some strictures of the Geneva Convention do NOT deal with torture, but rather with prisoner treatment and the acceptable bounds thereof. The part you cited doesn't even touch on torture, it touches on the latter.

Your clause is something that lawyers could quibble over and perhaps even justify, and even if it were a violation, there's certainly no expectation that it would prompt a public outcry or be considered as a flagrant violation of standards of human decency.

In other words, you're asking us to compare apples to oranges here, and it's horribly muddying whatever point you may be trying to get across.

The issue, at least with regards to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, doesn't have to do with "mild" violations, so really, why are we discussing them?

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at June 24, 2004 08:53 AM

last i checked, the Geneva Convention did not apply to terrorists. Of course, looking into the history of the Geneva Convention, why it was created, it's about time to update it...no?

Posted by: Conor at June 24, 2004 01:18 PM

Conor, can you please offer something to this discussion that hasn't already been debunked? That'd be great, thanks.

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at June 24, 2004 01:35 PM

OK, so if it's not the formal outlines of the Geneva Convention that we're concerned with, regarding Gitmo & Abu Ghraib, then we'll go KGC's vaguer standard: "what the public would be willing to accept and what would make the news to even see if they would be upset with the violation." (Even if Kenneth did not intend a quotable delineation, this is essentially what my friend and I were arguing about anyway.)

My whole intent in my last comment was to say that the gap between my exercise example and the tortures most commonly described and depicted by the media is an unfathomable gulf. So where are the middle points? I do know that one specifically approved pressure tactic was to have prisoners be forced to stand for several hours without rest. (Rumsfeld noted, 'I stand for 8 hours a day,' to signify that this could not be inappropriate.) Do most people find this acceptable?

I realize that torture is per se impermissible; the problem is that we are not perfectly clear on the point at which the public turns against a line of tactics.

Posted by: PG at June 25, 2004 02:20 PM

torture for crucial intel is one thing. torture of millions of prisoners for the hell of it is another. my greatgreat grandfather was at andersonville. the warden was executed for war crimes after the north won. i was recently a guest of community corrections of america, cca. get to know your local prison. as law students, it's part of your professional responsibility, and could be lucrative. torture is the norm. little things add up. recreation doesn't sound important until you meet a chinese dissident who was kept in one cell for ten years. little things like sleep deprivation, food you can't eat, no medicine, no phone book to look up your lawyer's number, no pencil or stamp. talk to someone who's been inside. take notes. go visit prisoners. you'll learn stuff.

Posted by: leon coward at June 29, 2004 12:58 AM

Actually, according to article 4 of the general provisions of the Geneva Convention, terrorist groups should not be considered to be prisoners of war ( http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/91.htm ). How was this debunked?

As to what Leon Coward brings up - this is true. But, that is not how America treats its prisoners. There have been prisoners at G. Bay that beg to be allowed to stay so that they don't have to return to their home country, where they might be executed or kept in a bad prison. They are better fed at G. Bay than ever in their lives. I don't argue that I would like to go there, but then, I don't imagine that I'll ever be captured in the mountains of Afghanistan with a band of terrorists.
Remember that most of these people are guilty - of far worse than we have done or will do. The worst done at Abu Ghraib was done on the worst, most known to be guilty, terrorists there. It doesn't make it moral, and if rape and killing took place then there is no excuse and they shall be punished. But to blow it out of proportion and blame Rumsfeld and cite the Geneva Convention is just foolish and based on false premises.

Posted by: liberty at July 16, 2004 06:19 PM
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