Two solitudes continued

I want to call people’s attention to two comments, one by Random and one by 49erDweet. Both make good, substantive arguments, even if I remain unconvinced by their conclusions.

As always, I appreciate the respectful tone that people are taking with one another. I don’t know whether we can hope to bridge the “two solitudes” divide anytime soon, but I always approve of respectful dialogue.

Random’s comment:

Apparently, Random is prepared to concede that the USA is torturing detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere. But Random argues, with the Bush Administration, that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those detainees:

49er is right on the issue Wright ignored — the Geneva Conventions only apply to the uniformed personnel of signatory states or enemy civilians not engaged in hostile acts. People who do not fall into these categories have essentially no rights whatsoever, and it is my understand that it is the position of the US government that the vast majority of the people at Gitmo fall into this category — it would be consistent with the Geneva Conventions to do virtually anything to them, up to and including lining them up against a wall and putting a bullet in their heads.

The British military personnel do however clearly fall within a protected category, and the Iranians clearly violated their rights. Wright is talking bunk in trying to establish moral equivalence.

I understand Random’s premises. Law reasons via a process of taxonomy: (1) carefully defining categories; (2) slotting people into one category or another; and (3) applying the consequences which follow from the categorization.

According to Random’s interpretation, the Geneva protections apply only to the uniformed personnel of signatory states or enemy civilians not engaged in hostile acts. If detainees don’t fit into that category, they aren’t entitled to protections.

But Wright doesn’t ignore this problem, as Random asserts. On the contrary, she applies the same logic to Iran, then moves beyond it:

… if you look at the Geneva Conventions which is prisoners of war, and right now there’s no state of war between Iran and Great Britain but, taking the high ground, the moral high ground, the Iranians should be treating the British with the utmost of care, they should not subject them to public curiosity, and by showing photos ….

In other words, the British detainees are not covered by the Geneva Conventions because there is no state of war between Iran and Great Britain. The argument is parallel to the narrow legal construction utilized by the Bush administration. But then Wright moves beyond the narrow construction and introduces a broader standard: the moral high ground.

Similarly, Christians distinguish between the “letter” of the law and the “spirit” of the law.

The distinction is very important when human dignity and human rights are at issue. Do we want other nations to utilize an expansive interpretation of the Geneva Conventions with Western detainees? Then we had better do likewise with the suspects we detain.

The Iranian detention of British sailors was a perfect opportunity to make the point. Bush and Cheney, O’Reilly and FOX, are hoist by their own petard in this instance. That’s why I side against O’Reilly: Wright’s point is valid and it certainly needs to be heard.

49erDweet’s comment:

The other comment I want to highlight addresses the same issue from a different direction. The thread went like this:

  • Canadian Expatriate and 49erDweet argued that we should mirror the conduct of our enemies. If they treat our detainees inhumanely, we should treat their detainees inhumanely. In 49er’s words, to “refuse to stoop” to your enemy’s level sends the message to him you are not truly committed to the fight, and encourages him to continue the battle.
  • In reply, Knotwurth Mentioning quoted a U2 lyric: you become a monster / so the monster will not break you. He argues (my paraphrase) that once the moral rot takes hold, it is irreversible. Stoop to your enemy’s level and you become what you hate.
  • 49er then pointed to a series of examples where the USA became temporarily, purposively a monster without doing any permanent damage to its moral character.

    49er’s examples are, (1) settling the West; (2) World War II; and (3) the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He concludes, Once an end is obtained, the degradation ceases — and some semblance of normalcy returns.

The two solitudes persist!

What do you think? Is 49er’s interpretation of history correct? And are these the right precedents to apply to the “war on terror”? Is there some other precedent we should be looking to?

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28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 10:23:47

    The US continuing to make their own rules and think this is “normal” and “right” will only accelerate the hatred felt around the world towards the US resulting in a quicker fall. If that’s what the US people really want, then feel free…..I’d rather have a responsible US in the world, than what we have now. I don’t see that happening, so I guess we start looking towards China who are patiently waiting in the wings watching the US self destruct.

    Reply

  2. Random
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 11:27:32

    Thanks for taken up my argument – a point of clarification though. I’m not conceding that the US is torturing people at Guantanamo or elsewhere (I simply don’t know enough to assert with confidence one way or the other, though some of the evidence does not look good), just making the point that even if this was happening then it would not be in breach of the Conventions. If you want to argue that what is going on should not be happening then you need another argument than that the Conventions are being breached.

    “In other words, the British detainees are not covered by the Geneva Conventions because there is no state of war between Iran and Great Britain.”

    If this is indeed Wright’s position, then it is incorrect. For two reasons, firstly that a formal declaration of war is not necessary to invoke the rights guaranteed by the Conventions. The actual language used in the 3rd Geneva Convention is “In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war *or of any other armed conflict* which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.” Emphasis mine, one should at least be able to argue that when members of the armed forces of one state interfere with and detain members of the armed forces of another state then a state of “armed conflict” can be said to exist even if no blood has been shed. Secondly, the Conventions also require that in circumstances where it is uncertain if they apply then the default presumption should be in favour of applicability until such time as a duly constituted tribunal has ruled on the issue.

    “According to Random’s interpretation, the Geneva protections apply only to the uniformed personnel of signatory states or enemy civilians not engaged in hostile acts.”

    It’s not my interpretation, it’s the plain meaning of the text. Article 4 of the 3rd and 4th Geneva Conventions give the relevant definitions.

    “Do we want other nations to utilize an expansive interpretation of the Geneva Conventions with Western detainees?”

    Not really. We’d be happy if they stuck to a plain reading of the text. Which incidentally would certainly exclude the vast majority of the Al Qaeda and Taliban types that end up at Gitmo (though probably not any innocent parties swept up in error).

    “The Iranian detention of British sailors was a perfect opportunity to make the point. Bush and Cheney, O’Reilly and FOX, are hoist by their own petard in this instance.”

    Why? This argument really rather angers me. The British military personnel in question took no oath of loyalty to Bush or Cheney (and certainly not to O’Reilly and Fox) so why should they be held accountable for their behaviour? As I stated before (and was apparently overlooked) – “In any case, even if all her assertions were true, answer me this – Gitmo is a US facility. The British government, although a US ally, has frequently spoken out against conditions there and lobbied for people to be released. So why then is it an appropriate peace of moral equivalence to take British service personnel hostage?”

    Look, none of this is to defend what goes on at Gitmo, even if Wright and people like her do seem to want to defend what the Iranians are doing by making comparisons with Gitmo (this is the first I’ve heard that Tu Quoque is a valid principle of international law, but there you go). The point is that there are plenty of reasons for arguing against what is going on at Gitmo, but saying that it violates our obligations under the Geneva Conventions is not one of them. And if you give the impression that an argument as easily shot down as this is the best you can do then you are actually helping the people who defend Gitmo not undermining them.

    Reply

  3. SadieLou
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 11:44:18

    Hello. I came over here from Jewish Atheist’s blog. I’ve been a blog buddy of his for probably over a year now. He just nominated you for a pretty big blogging award. I had to come check you out (because I’m a Christian too). Now I see that some of my other friends play here too! I know Random and 49er through the blogsphere…Hi guys!
    I bookmarked you and I’ll be back but also, please feel welcome to post on my blog as well.
    ~Sadie

    Reply

  4. SadieLou
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 11:45:35

    Wait a second–is this “Q”???
    Yikes–sorry for commenting. We had an agreement.
    My bad.

    Reply

  5. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 11:58:18

    Does “uniformed” apply to a double agent? I get where you’re coming from (I think) but while the US is playing the “we’re the good guys, and we only do what’s right and just” card it can NOT make it’s own rules in practice.

    It created Guantanamo on Cuban soil to INTENTIONALLY muddy the legal waters. Do you really think the Bush administration couldn’t have re-arranged the maximum security prison facilities to hand one over to this cause if they wanted to?

    It created the term “unlawful combatants” to INTENTIONALLY avoid the Geneva Convention. The Convention was written to cover all sorts of people found in the battlefield. By applying a specially created term they are not “breaking” the convention because the convention don’t apply to that new term.

    This is not the act of a nation who is following the theme of international law…it’s one who thinks it’s above it. How can it gain any moral high ground like this?

    If every other nation followed the US lead, who could blame them? We pick up people where we like, detain them with no rights, not trial, no accusation, no evidence, no consular access…all because they happened to be in an area we were trying to control and didn’t kiss our feet when stopped.

    I’ll put this another way…..how do the US act if some of their people are detained abroad? If their people were treated the way they treat the Guantanamo inmates would the US sit back and say “well, all is fair in love and war”. Of course they wouldn’t. They’d demand a fair trial and consular access at the very least.

    Reply

  6. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 12:23:54

    Another thought about “normalcy returning” after a temporary state of being a “monster”. This is known as “victors justice” where history is told through the eyes of the victor. I agree the Atom bomb on Hiroshima did convince the Japanese Empire that fighting on was not a good idea…and as such ended WWII.

    This left a broken planet with the US victorious to force their idea’s on the rest of us as a prize……to enrich one nation. This is not “normal”. Nothing returned to it’s previous state….it changed yes, but didn’t return.

    The Project For The New American Century lunatics who control the White House now believe they WON the cold war, and as such have the right to exploit the world as the spoils of war……and look where that got us. Yet another example of “change”, not “return”…every change in power changes the moral character.

    The US has been consumed by greed for so long, that it needs to continue the exploitation to maintain that level…..it will continue to delude itself that it’s “in the right” when it sees a goal. It thinks it’s fate will be different from ALL other empires before it, and will follow the same path. How many Brits in 1850 thought their global dominance would be all but over 100 years later? It’s an inconceivable thought, but inevitable for those who ignore the lessons of history.

    Not one but TWO failed wars where the only superpower tries to crush a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters and have to retreat with their goals thwarted…..IN LIVING MEMORY……and to the SAME COUNTRY…….history clearly is not a strong US subject.

    Reply

  7. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 12:36:14

    A quickie on the exploitation of POW’s thing. We are outraged by TV shots on Arab networks showing our prisoners, by see nothing wrong with showing “terrorists” or “insurgents” cuffed and gagged on our own news……what happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?

    Were these people given fair trials before the news cameras filmed them? Or is this another example of “if we do it, it’s legal and fine……if you do it, it’s an outrage”.

    I’ll let someone else get a word in now lol. It’s unusual to see a comparison blog, trying to get the head around what’s being pointed out rather than what’s offered as a view. I’ve just started blogging, I guess it’s something I’ll have to learn to adapt to.

    Reply

  8. Stephen
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 14:19:47

    Random:
    If this is indeed Wright’s position, then it is incorrect.

    That’s a pretty bold assertion, given that Wright has thirty years experience in the army, and has taught the Geneva Conventions.

    I’m being cautious in the assertions I make because I don’t think a lay person can presume to understand the nuances of legal interpretation of a series of Conventions.

    One should at least be able to argue that when members of the armed forces of one state interfere with and detain members of the armed forces of another state then a state of “armed conflict” can be said to exist even if no blood has been shed.

    One is certainly welcome to argue the case, but I don’t find the argument persuasive.

    Surely the USA is engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda. And surely the USA is not (yet) engaged in an armed conflict with Iran. At most we’ve had a war of words — which is to say, no war whatsoever.

    There is a stronger prima facie argument for applying the Geneva Conventions to detainees from the “war on terror” than to Iran’s detainees. But I’m with Wright: all nations should treat all detainees humanely, without making subtle legal arguments to excuse abuses.

    Secondly, the Conventions also require that in circumstances where it is uncertain if they apply then the default presumption should be in favour of applicability until such time as a duly constituted tribunal has ruled on the issue.

    I’m flabergasted that you would make this argument. This is exactly the sort of blatant double standard that I’m objecting to. I guess President Bush’s unilateral decision with respect to the Gitmo detainees constitutes a formal tribunal in your view.

    The British military personnel in question took no oath of loyalty to Bush or Cheney.

    You have a point here. But Blair / the British military has been the most stalwart U.S. ally during the Bush administration’s misadventure in Iraq. To some extent, the Brits are culpable for the excesses of Bush’s policy, because they have aided and abetted his prosecution of the “war on terror”.

    Look, none of this is to defend what goes on at Gitmo, even if Wright and people like her do seem to want to defend what the Iranians are doing by making comparisons with Gitmo.

    Wright doesn’t defend the Iranians. She wants both Iran and the USA to uphold the Geneva standards in their treatment of detainees, even if there’s some doubt that a strictly legal interpretation of the Conventions would apply. Don’t distort her position — that’s a disingenuous, unethical way to defend your own position.

    As for not defending what goes on at Gitmo — that’s the most important element of the discussion. I’m glad you at least leave open the possibility that the USA is guilty of misconduct there.

    Reply

  9. Stephen
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 14:35:19

    • Dirk:
    Does “uniformed” apply to a double agent?

    A good question. That sort of anomaly always arises when people take cover behind a narrow legal construction (the letter of the law).

    I think it’s fair to say that my blog is unusual because I genuinely want to hear from all points of view.

    Which is not to say that I don’t defend my own convictions, as you can see from my reply to Random. But Random, 49er, and others are welcome to argue strenuously for their convictions, too.

    I think you’ll find there is more ad hominem mud slinging on other blogs that raise such hotly contested subjects for debate.

    Anyway, welcome to the blogosphere! I hope you find it a rewarding experience.

    • Sadie Lou:
    Yep, it’s me, “Q”.

    Enough time has passed that I invite you to rejoin the dialogue if you have any interest in doing so. Unlike Toward Jerusalem, this blog isn’t primarily about theology — though I do address that topic at regular intervals.

    All I ask is that people be prepared to acknowledge when someone with whom they disagree makes a valid point — as I have done with Random, for example.

    Reply

  10. SadieLou
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 14:44:27

    I agree. Enough time has passed and I’m learning more about my Christian walk and what that looks like. I would like to visit here again and please visit me.
    🙂
    Of course I can recognize when someone has made a valid point–I wrestle with atheists for Pete’s sake.

    Reply

  11. Random
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 15:17:04

    “That’s a pretty bold assertion, given that Wright has thirty years experience in the army, and has taught the Geneva Conventions.”

    Perhaps, or maybe it’s simply that instead of relying on an expert to tell me what the text says I went off and read it myself. A full copy of the 3rd Geneva Convention can be found here –

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Third_Geneva_Convention

    By all means go and read it yourself and tell me what you think it means.

    “One is certainly welcome to argue the case, but I don’t find the argument persuasive.”

    This I don’t understand. Uniformed military personnel were involved – on both sides – and there was a real threat of force involved which would certainly have resulted in bloodshed if the British personnel had not surrendered. Do you really believe bloodshed is required to invoke the conventions?

    “”Secondly, the Conventions also require that in circumstances where it is uncertain if they apply then the default presumption should be in favour of applicability until such time as a duly constituted tribunal has ruled on the issue.”

    I’m flabergasted that you would make this argument.This is exactly the sort of blatant double standard that I’m objecting to.”

    I’m flabbergasted frankly, to put it politely, by your response.And if I’m applying a blatant double standard that’s because the convention does. As mentioned above I actually read the convention before writing these comments and what I say here is a mere paraphrase of Article 5 which reads in full –

    “The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.

    Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.”

    A word of advice – just because the Bush administration asserts something does not mean you can automatically dismiss it as false without even assessing the evidence.

    “Wright doesn’t defend the Iranians. She wants both Iran and the USA to uphold the Geneva standards in their treatment of detainees, even if there’s some doubt that a strictly legal interpretation of the Conventions would apply.”

    Which I actually agree with. I have merely been pointing out that it is not hypocritical to call on the Iranians to apply the Conventions in circumstances where they do apply even if we have not been applying them in circumstances where they don’t apply (that could probably be phrased better, but I think you understand what I mean).

    “Don’t distort her position — that’s a disingenuous, unethical way to defend your own position.”

    A somewhat ironic criticism as that’s exactly what you have done to me two paragraphs previously. Nothing I have said or implied can support an accusation that “I guess President Bush’s unilateral decision with respect to the Gitmo detainees constitutes a formal tribunal in your view.”

    Reply

  12. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 15:40:35

    When one power is overwhelmingly huge in a “wear the uniform to mark you as an enemy” type of way, the only military solution to this is to be a civilian until the last possible second…..which does make it harder to define. Let’s face it, any country deciding to attack the US would be crazy, so they leave that up to radicalized civilians who can hide in schools, hospitals etc. The US has to find a way to deal with this…..which again; is of their own making.

    Reply

  13. Stephen
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 15:57:32

    That’s exactly what you have done to me two paragraphs previously. Nothing I have said or implied can support an accusation that “I guess President Bush’s unilateral decision with respect to the Gitmo detainees constitutes a formal tribunal in your view.”

    If so, I apologize. I was only trying to follow your argument to its logical conclusion:

    The Conventions also require that in circumstances where it is uncertain if they apply then the default presumption should be in favour of applicability until such time as a duly constituted tribunal has ruled on the issue.

    Is it uncertain whether the Conventions apply to the detainees at Gitmo? I would say so, given how contentious the Bush administration’s policy is. Both within and outside the USA, the policy produced an immediate, vehement outcry.

    Therefore Cheney and Bush should assume that the Conventions apply unless a duly constituted tribunal has ruled otherwise, right?

    Was such a tribunal ever convened? Without it, the policy comes down to a unilateral decision on the part of the President and his inner circle.

    You didn’t explicitly say that Bush’s opinion was sufficient; but it seems to be an inevitable implication of your argument. Otherwise, we’re back to the moral equivalence which you rejected at the outset.

    Whether the Geneva Conventions apply is a matter of dispute in both cases. In both cases, government should assume that the Conventions apply until such time as a duly constituted tribunal has ruled on the issue.

    Do you really believe bloodshed is required to invoke the conventions?

    To be precise: the Conventions do not apply until two states are involved in an “armed conflict”. Yes, I maintain that “armed conflict” does not exist until shots are fired in an attempt to kill (as opposed to warning shots).

    Reply

  14. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 17:06:50

    I’m coming into the discussion late. Perhaps I missed something and what I am about to write is irrelevant to the discussion. I’ll throw it out there anyway, just in case. 🙂

    The argument justifying all sorts of maltreatment of prisoners seems to go like this:

    “Captured people fall into one of two categories: either they are prisoners of war, or they aren’t. If we categorize some prisoners not as prisoners of war, but as something else – detainees or enemy combatants, say – then the Geneva Conventions don’t apply. If the Geneva Conventions don’t apply, then we can treat the prisoners any way we want. We need this latitude for security.”

    Am I alone in my opinion that this argument is totally insupportable in every respect and at every step?

    Placing someone into one particular legal category rather than another is a poor excuse to take away their human rights.

    Furthermore, when we treat people in such a manner, we are telling all the rest of the world that it’s okay for them to treat us in just the same way.

    Reply

  15. 49erDweet
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 17:36:51

    I’m seeing a lot of assumptions and opinions. I can respect the opinions of others, but I do reserve the right to reject some of their politically colored “assumptions”.

    The apparently universal world-view of how inhumanely the US is treating prisoners in Gitmo was cocked on it’s ear, recently, when David Hicks was discovered to have gained almost 100 pounds whilst undergoing five years of “torture” there. All the claims of degradation, inhumanity. and suffering had to suddenly be revised once he appeared so robustly in court. Either that, or them “Aussies” sure put on weight easily.

    Nice to read SadieLou again. Cheers

    Reply

  16. JewishAtheist
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 20:19:05

    This post moved me.

    Reply

  17. Simen
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 21:30:02

    A single person isn’t evidence that there’s no torture going on.

    Reply

  18. 49erDweet
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 21:50:46

    Simen, I quite agree. The key word, however, is “evidence”. In the future I may be expected to “eat my words”, which – should the occasion arise – am prepared to do. Are you comfortable enough with your own POV that if future solid evidence conclusively shows your assumptions were in error you are able to do the same? If so, I respect your opinion. If not, I do not give them much weight.

    Stephen, thanks once again for hosting an interesting and civil discussion. Oh, that I had more time to spend in the blogosphere!

    Cheers

    Reply

  19. Random
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 04:41:15

    “If so, I apologize. I was only trying to follow your argument to its logical conclusion:”

    Thank you for the apology, but it did seem as though your argument was more ad hominem than reductio ad absurdum.

    Is it uncertain whether the Conventions apply to the detainees at Gitmo? I would say so, given how contentious the Bush administration’s policy is.”

    Actually, based on a reading of the Convention, it would seem as certain as anything can be that it would not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. It (or to be more precies, the 4th Convention) probably would apply to any innocent civilians swept up however. And it should be noted that many people presumably fitting this category have now been released (maybe not enough and not quickly enough, but that is a legitimate criticism of the Gitmo system).

    “Both within and outside the USA, the policy produced an immediate, vehement outcry.”

    This sounds very close to an argument of vox populi, vox dei, frankly.

    “Was such a tribunal ever convened? Without it, the policy comes down to a unilateral decision on the part of the President and his inner circle.”

    I don’t know how the decisions were reached, and I suspect from the tone of your question you don’t either. This however is an area where the opinion of an actual expert would be useful, as the convention is silent on what constitutes a tribunal and it would be useful to know what (if any) established precedent there is in this area.

    “Whether the Geneva Conventions apply is a matter of dispute in both cases.”

    Seriously, no. There is no significant dispute that the Conventions applied to the British personnel. The only people making this case are ones who are apparently either desparate to excuse the actions of the Iranians or simply unable to perceive that, for once, it’s not all about Bush and citing Guantanamo is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card for international disputes.

    “To be precise: the Conventions do not apply until two states are involved in an “armed conflict”.

    Again, no. Article 1 of the Convention says “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention through all circumstances.” Article 2 then goes on to make it explicit that “all circumstances” include any type of war or armed conflict (presumably to get around any inter armes silent leges type arguments).

    “Yes, I maintain that “armed conflict” does not exist until shots are fired in an attempt to kill (as opposed to warning shots).”

    This is very strange. are you really saying that soldiers are only entitled to the protection of the conventions if they put their lives at risk? That anybody who makes a realistic strategic assessment of the situation and refuses to engage in a pointless escalation that will change nothing, only get people killed, and unpredictably exacerbate the large picture (and we know from the post-release interviews that this is exactly what the leaders of the British boarding party were thinking) that they they therefore have no rights whatsoever and can only rely on the tender mercies of their captors? This is most odd.

    Reply

  20. Random
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 04:43:18

    By the way, apologies for the amount of Latin in that last post! I’m sure the folks here are learned enough not to need a translation:-)

    Reply

  21. Stephen
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 07:53:49

    • 49er:
    Evidence is indeed what counts. I wonder whether you followed the link (torture) I supplied in a comment to you on the earlier post.

    I am a latecomer to this issue. A lot of critics have been after the Bush administration ever since the Abu Ghraib photos first turned up. I stayed silent for a long time, because I didn’t see decisive evidence of a policy of torture.

    (Nor did I go looking for it. Perhaps I should have, but note that I was not on a witch hunt against the Bush administration.)

    It wasn’t until I started reading Andrew Sullivan that I realized, the evidence of a torture policy (not just isolated sadistic individuals) is mounting. And I’m not talking about Andrew Sullivan’s personal opinion: I’m talking about multiple first- or second-hand accounts of commonplace torture, and military commanders who lose reports and otherwise aquiesce in their subordinates’ practice of torture. I.e., a policy.

    I’m offended that you think my opinion reduces to an unsubstantiated left liberal bias. I am a cautious intellectual by nature. I don’t toss wild accusations about. I would not take such a strong stand unless I was persuaded by the evidence that the Bush administration had, and has, a policy of torturing suspects. Now that I have reached that conclusion, I must speak out.

    • Random:
    Based on a reading of the Convention, it would seem as certain as anything can be that it would not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.

    With respect, you are not competent to make such a determination. Nor am I. Lay people should not dabble in law, even if they can toss a little Latin into their comments.

    You’ve read the conventions — bully for you. Have you read all the international literature on the subject? Are you current on the case law? I guarantee you, the interpretation of the Conventions is vastly more complex that you suppose it to be.

    As for our dialogue, I’m content to let readers decide which of us has made a better case. But I am not impressed that you declare there is no doubt either way: the Conventions certainly do not apply to the detainees held by the USA, and they certainly do apply to the detainees recently held by Iran.

    You don’t have the expertise to make either determination, and those who do have the expertise are divided in their opinions. Thus it is unclear whether the Conventions apply. Thus the Conventions should be assumed to apply until a formal tribunal has ruled otherwise.

    In the end, your argument appears to me to be partisan, or based on your personal preference, rather than evidence- and fact-based. Maybe that’s unfair. But as I said, this is how it appears to me.

    Reply

  22. Stephen
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 09:19:52

    • Snaars:
    My apologies, I didn’t mean to pass over your comment in silence.

    The specific argument over the application of the Geneva Conventions was triggered by the O’Reilly/Wright video. But you’re certainly right: even if it doesn’t apply, detainees should still be treated humanely.

    In fact, I think Random would also agree, despite the provocative nature of some of his comments (e.g., lining detainees up against a wall and shoooting them).

    • JA:
    Thanks for the link. It must be a very difficult time to be an American — at least, for one (rather large) segment of the population.

    I think that individual was a little slow on the uptake, but I guess each of us gets there in his or her own time.

    Reply

  23. Ozymandias
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 12:17:49

    It must be a very difficult time to be an American — at least, for one (rather large) segment of the population.

    It is difficult because so there are so many shades of grey. The lines of morality and ethics are so easily blurred. Many argue otherwise, but the reality is that there are very few things that can be delineated as being good or bad.

    The question of how to define torture is an excellent example of this. You have probably come across a hundred different arguments on the blogosphere about this.

    Many people agree that waterboarding is torture, but argue about sleep deprivation.

    As someone said elsewhere it is hard to play by the rules when those you fight have none.

    Reply

  24. Dirk Gently
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 12:22:11

    This is not meant to be a spam comment, but I do have a blog about these shades of grey for those who are interested. http://dirkgently.wordpress.com/2007/04/01/good-v-evil/

    Reply

  25. Ozymandias
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 12:27:52

    In a comment above JA referred to a post by Andrew Sullivan that I found troubling. In this postSullivan writes about the captive British sailors and comments a reader made regarding them:

    I found myself thinking thank God they got away so easily and then I realized that I was comparing their treatment to Abu Graib – my frame of reference was the horrible treatment meted out by America – not some far away dictatorship! And this is supposed to be the land of the Miranda law – the irony has me stumped.

    Here is why I find this troubling. The BBC reports:

    Royal Navy personnel seized by Iran were blindfolded, bound and held in isolation during their 13 days in captivity, the crew have said.

    They were lined up while weapons were cocked, making them “fear the worst”, one of the 15 freed sailors revealed.

    Is there anyone who will argue that staging fake executions is not tantamount to torture. Sullivan and reader come across to me as having a bad case of moral equivalency.

    What happened at Abu Ghraib is wrong but it is not an excuse nor justification for the Iranians actions.

    I find all of this to be quite troubling.

    Reply

  26. Stephen
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 15:58:57

    Ozymandias:

    I agree, mock executions constitute torture. But did you look at the link I referred 49er to?

    When Navy Seals use ice water to lower a detainee’s temperature, to the point where the Seals take a rectal temperature to make sure they don’t accidentally kill the detainee — that’s torture. Similarly, when detainees are hung from a bed frame bolted to the ceiling of an airplane hangar, guaranteed to make them talk, it sounds suspiciously like torture to me.

    Thus I don’t understand your comment, “a bad case of moral equivalency.” Isn’t torture morally equivalent to torture?

    You misunderstood me when I said it’s a bad time (for some) to be American. For Americans who implacably oppose torture, it’s tough to face up to the reality that their government practises torture.

    Reply

  27. JewishAtheist
    Apr 08, 2007 @ 17:12:54

    Ozymandias,

    According to several accounts, the U.S. has also committed mock executions:

    After the [Abu Ghraib] scandal broke, they stopped torturing people in prisons and they would torture them before they got to the prison. They would either torture them in their homes or they would take them to a remote location . . . The marines had a location—they called it the ‘meat factory’—they would bring them there and they would torture them for 24 or 48 hours before they brought them to us, and they were using techniques like water boarding, mock execution, they were beating them up, breaking their bones, whatever. It was bad, in particular the First Recon—they’re sort of like marine special forces, an elite unit [attached to the 24th Marine Exped­itionary Unit, known as 24th MEU]. Every time they went on a raid it didn’t matter who they were bringing back, they would just fuck these guys up. Old men, 15-year-old kids, they all came with bruises and broken bones. One guy came with a blister on the back of his leg. It was big, it was horrible, a burn blister. They’d made him sit on the exhaust pipe of a running truck.

    http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/torture/

    Reply

  28. Ozymandias
    Apr 09, 2007 @ 03:17:46

    Thus I don’t understand your comment, “a bad case of moral equivalency.” Isn’t torture morally equivalent to torture?

    I was referring to the comment by the reader in Sullivan’s post and what I saw there.

    Reply

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