War crimes (again)

by Chris Bertram on August 9, 2006

Via Billmon , I see that the Bush administration is now proposing amendments to the War Crimes Act in order to protect CIA operatives and former military personnel from prosecution for violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The proposal is to replace general protections against degrading treatment with a list of specific offences. Guess what gets excluded:

… humiliations, degrading treatment and other acts specifically deemed as “outrages” by the international tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia—such as placing prisoners in “inappropriate conditions of confinement,” forcing them to urinate or defecate in their clothes, and merely threatening prisoners with “physical, mental, or sexual violence”—would not be among the listed U.S. crimes, officials said.

{ 19 comments }

1

luci 08.09.06 at 4:29 am

Wonder if waterboarding falls under “inappropriate conditions of confinement” or “merely threatening prisoners” with physical violence….

2

French Swede the Rootless Vegetable 08.09.06 at 4:43 am

waterboarding was a typical medieval torture… but it doesn’t result in “death” or “organ failure”, as the Bybee memo puts it…

3

Bruce Baugh 08.09.06 at 6:19 am

It remains very odd to realize once again that I’m living in a country whose leaders richly deserve prosecution as war criminals.

4

abb1 08.09.06 at 6:55 am

Yes, but they are criminals only according to “the definition of vague words by international or foreign courts, who often pursue nakedly political agendas at odds with the United States.” And the United States agenda requires people to urinate and defecate in their clothes; it’s somewhere in the Constitution, or at least in the copy that they carry in their pockets. In the same article that says: “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

5

Daniel 08.09.06 at 7:25 am

This will only protect them under US law, it should be noted; it is very well established indeed (most prominently by R. v Pinochet) that the prohibition of torture is a genuine peremptory norm and applies as part of international customary law whether or not it is a crime under domestic statute.

6

Tangurena 08.09.06 at 7:39 am

If the US refuses to prosecute, then any/every participant risks arrest if they should travel outside the US.

7

Steve LaBonne 08.09.06 at 7:50 am

“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” -Thomas Jefferson

8

Heather Sensibaugh 08.09.06 at 8:23 am

This policy is so ill-advised at this time it’s hard to imagine why it’s being pursued. Is it being used as a tradeoff with administration officials who seek more secrecy with the new military commissions being developed by Congress?

In general, I do think that “degrading treatment” is too ambiguous to deter would-be wrongdoers, but why not use this opportunity to adopt international standards of degrading treatment rather than to ensure impunity?

Do we Americans no longer have a moral imperitive to ensure human dignity according to the broadest definition of dignity that exists in the world?

9

james 08.09.06 at 8:55 am

Honestly I don’t know why the administration even bothers. Most acts of genocide committed by small third world countries go unpunished. I find it hard to believe any nation is going to bother coming after any of the G8 countries for committing degrading acts. Maybe if the conventions where enforced, but such is not the world as it is today.

10

abb1 08.09.06 at 9:03 am

In general, I do think that “degrading treatment” is too ambiguous to deter would-be wrongdoers…

According to the WaPo piece linked in the post:

Eugene R. Fidell, president of the nonprofit National Institute of Military Justice, said that laws governing military conduct are filled with broadly described prohibitions that are nonetheless enforceable, including “dereliction of duty,” “maltreatment” and “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

11

Brendan 08.09.06 at 9:29 am

‘ And the United States agenda requires people to urinate and defecate in their clothes; it’s somewhere in the Constitution, or at least in the copy that they carry in their pockets’.

Euwww…no wonder they don’t want to read it then.

12

Jim Harrison 08.09.06 at 1:40 pm

I doubt if many Democratic polticians would have the stomach for it, even if they had the power; but there really does need to be a reckoning about the war crimes committed by this administration. A lot of these guys should die in prison. After the Civil War, after Nixon, after Irangate, the malefactors escaped with barely rapped knuckles. This time, we don’t have the luxury of forgiveness if we want to preserve something like a decent form of government.

13

Tangurena 08.09.06 at 5:33 pm

Why now? Because the administration is scared that the repubs will lose their House and Senate majorities in November. As a result, such a law could never get past a Democrat controlled body. Further, bush and others are scared pissless about impeachment, removal from office, then deportation to the first country asking for extradition for war crimes. As they should be afraid.

14

Dan Simon 08.09.06 at 8:14 pm

What the Bush administration is missing, of course, is that by narrowing the definition of “degrading treatment”, it’s depriving itself of a golden opportunity to extricate itself from its Gitmo problem. Under the broader definition, the US government could simply set up a tribunal and try the Guantanamo detainees for war crimes related to their maltreatment of their guards.

(Or is flinging feces one of those “weapons of the weak”, like killing civilians, that terrorists have the unlimited right to use against Americans–and are downright encouraged to use against Israelis, whenever they get the chance–but that Western democracies must avoid even accidentally seeming to use, while defending themselves against terrorists?)

15

Jon 08.09.06 at 10:49 pm

(Or is flinging feces one of those “weapons of the weak”, like killing civilians, that terrorists have the unlimited right to use against Americans—and are downright encouraged to use against Israelis, whenever they get the chance—but that Western democracies must avoid even accidentally seeming to use, while defending themselves against terrorists?)

God, how I wish I could have the seconds from my life back that I spent reading that sentence.

16

snuh 08.10.06 at 2:51 am

funny you should say that, dan, because i think part of the reason so many people are so upset about gitmo is that even now, over four years after their capture, the majority of prisoners there still have not been charged with any crime whatsoever.

but hey, don’t let that stop you from accusing them all of being terrorists.

17

abb1 08.10.06 at 5:00 am

…try the Guantanamo detainees for war crimes related to their maltreatment of their guards.

Damn, why didn’t I think of this? This is perfect, if a bit too sarcastic.

18

Dan Simon 08.10.06 at 1:41 pm

God, how I wish I could have the seconds from my life back that I spent reading that sentence.

You know, Jon, you’re right–in retrospect, I could have made the point much more succinctly and straightforwardly, with less sarcasm and more precision. Something like, “or is flinging feces one of those ‘weapons of the weak’ that Chris specificaly argued ought to be forbidden to military forces, such as those of the Western democracies, but freely usable by ‘non-conventional forces’, such as Al Qaeda terrorists?”

I apologize for letting my emotions get the better of me.

19

Chris Bertram 08.10.06 at 1:57 pm

OK Dan. In my judgement you add nothing of value to the conversation here at CT. You have your own blog, so I suggest you give vent to your emotions there and those who want to read about them can visit.

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