July 14, 2005

Update: The Conscience Caucus

I've not yet read the Schmidt report, but if this account is a fair representation, let me just say that the style of the report fits well the pattern of the Fay, and Jacoby, and Taguba, and Schlesinger, and all the other preceding reports. The somewhat sanitized narrative(s): some bad shit happened, mostly perpetrated by low-level people not typically acting within the rubric of authorized interrogation tactics, but nevertheless with some of the egregious felony abuse and torture at least partly caused by general lack of oversight, or conflicting signals on authorized tactics, or lack of resources, or other systemic failures from on high. All this said, the reports are always careful to avoid really damning the major players (though Sanchez and even Rummy, the latter if always in a veiled and soft-knuckled way, get a comeuppance or two here and there), but if you wade through all the material you start smelling quite interesting patterns that, er, merit some more attention. It takes a long time, because it involves literally thousands of pages of material, so I appreciate your patience. I hope to post, in significant detail, my take on the legal memoranda, the different reports and what they mean, whether there was something of a whitewash, if so who needs to be reprimanded more sternly, what we still don't know, what we do know that (still) needs to change, and what it means to be part of a nascent blogospheric 'conscience caucus' on this issue.

Another irony? Yes, Gitmo is the kinder, gentler detention center as compared to Bagram, to Abu Ghraib, to other centers whose names are less well known. So some prominent right wing bloggers can easily jest to their hearts content about all the delic Curries-on-the-Caribbean. But, if you dig into the detail, what you see are that the tactics initially authorized at Gitmo 'migrated' perniciously, to places where the guard to detainee ratio was not, alas, close to 1:1, but more like 1:75; to war zones where mortar attacks occurred often, where tremendous pressure for intelligence extraction existed always, where highly emotionally charged environments prevailed where people were dying and feelings of revenge were ever present. Thus what worked in the hyper-controlled environs of Gitmo (though abuse occurred there too), floundered into major debacle and moral stain in places like Abu Ghraib (which, again, was not just about panties on the head--this is clear for those who take the trouble to read the reports--though I doubt many of the cheap, Rummy-cheerleaders have). So, you might say, the fish rots from the head. And Gitmo, in many ways, was the head. Also critical? The decision to junk Geneva for some murky standard of humane treatement (with the "military necessity" caveat, of course). Many government lawyers, by the way (and not just at striped-pants State), thought this very purposeful setting aside of Geneva for certain categories of combatants unnecessary either on efficacy of intelligence gathering grounds or other ones besides. This is another important and under-reported side of this entire story. Also, of course, there was the FUBAR aspect of the total lack of training and the piss-poor way the detention centers were manned (this too, I guess, was Lyndie England's fault?) More, much more, on all this I hope towards the end of this coming weekend.

Posted by Gregory at July 14, 2005 05:57 AM | TrackBack (0)

let me just say that the style of the report fits well the pattern of the Fay, and Jacoby, and Taguba, and Schlesinger, and all the other preceding reports.

Let me just say that Greg's post fits well the pattern of the other of his posts in the series. If all of the reports don't really show that our detention techniques are horrible, horrible, then they must be whitewashes, because Greg just knows the truth -- it's all Rummy's fault.

PS - yes, yes, this is called "message discipline", just as Greg talked about earlier. I hope I get my extra points from Karl for it.

Posted by: Al at July 14, 2005 01:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

actually i found this post more persuasive than previous Greg posts on the topic.

The insight about what could be kept under control at gitmo, proving far more difficult to control elsewhere, is particularly compelling.

Id still like to see a serious, relatively unemotional, discussion on the efficacy question. I hope asking for that does not exclude me from the "conscience caucus"

Posted by: liberalhawk at July 14, 2005 04:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


When all the froth is boiled away there seems to be very little difference between the "conscience caucus" and my "panties on the head" crowd. We can agree that Rummy should have been sacked for the Geneva "flexibility" and abu Ghraib. We can agree that the political tin ear (as in so many other areas) has hurt our effort in egregious ways. Along with depleted uranium shells hurting the birdies and the fishies, cluster bombs being mean to little children, our POW/interrogation techniques (undoubtedly perfected in the banana republics) were the favorite talking points of the anti-Amerikkka crowd. To give them a shovel full of confirmation at abu Ghraib was the biggest single error of this war so far.
And yet... During WWII, at about the time Eisenhower signed the execution order for deserter Pvt. Eddie Slovak, there was serious discussion of also executing another soldier for gang rape.. the problem was deemed getting so bad as our troops were breaking down morally as well as physically from the battle stress. Can you imagine how our current press corps, with their fun-house mirror perspective on context and significance, would have treated that issue? I don't disagree that putting Jerry Springer Show misfits in charge of abu Ghraib was inexcusable, but the Niagara of attention paid to this issue, compared to the black-out on our progress in 80% of the country, is what really irritates those of us in the cheerleader section.

Posted by: wayne at July 14, 2005 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You said: "...this is clear for those who take the trouble to read the reports..".

I hope you will give links to the reports you use, because I would like to take the trouble to read them.

Posted by: Tom Paine at July 14, 2005 04:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also critical? The decision to junk Geneva for some murky standard of humane treatement (with the "military necessity" caveat, of course).

Could you please actually *read* the Geneva Conventions? They state explicitly that, in order to qualify for their protections, you must 1) wear a uniform, 2) not hide amongst civilians, and 3) follow a chain of command.

The terrorists in Iraq *do not meet any of these criteria*. Therefore they forgo the protections of the Geneva Convention. If they want the protections they should put on some uniforms and stop hiding amongst civilians (the civilians would certainly be grateful). The Geneva Conventions protect civilians by distinguishing between civilians and soliders. The terrorists are not soldiers, and thus endanger civilians. They should pay a penalty for this, a point that the Geneva Convention wisely realizes but you don't.

If you want to be nice to the terrorists because you like them or feel sorry for them or whatever, that's fine. But please, for the love of God, stop raising the Geneva Convention like it supports your point because it actually does the *exact opposite*


Posted by: ab at July 14, 2005 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's hard for me to buy in on the assertion that Geneva was "junked". From the reading what the Geneva Conventions says it appears that it simply does not apply for good reasons.

Here is Article 4, verbatim:

Article 4, Section 1 defines who is considered a POW and thus entitled to GCIII protections: Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

* that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
* that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
* that of carrying arms openly;
* that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

I'm having trouble understanding how any legal interpretation, however creative, could come to any other conclusion that the majority of captives at GITMO or elsewhere legitimate POWs.

Remember these requirements for POW classification were motivated by the international community to force combatents to not behave like spys or terrorists (i.e. mix transparently within a civilian population with the intent of murdering them).

Posted by: bob at July 14, 2005 07:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry for the grammatically incorrect sentences. Let me try again.

"From my reading of the Geneva Conventions it appears that it does not apply to current circumstances, and for good reason."

"I'm having trouble understanding how any legal interpretation, however creative, could come to a conclusion that the majority of captives at GITMO or elsewhere are legitimate POWs."

Posted by: bob at July 14, 2005 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I completely agree. I do think that what happened at Abu Ghraib was counterproductive, and that the U.S. personnel involved deserve to be disciplined. But you are absolutely right about the Geneva convention; in fact those who keep trying to give the terrorists rights under Geneva are granting the terrorists a legitimacy that

a) they don't deserve and
b) strengthens their cause.

Posted by: exhelodrvr at July 14, 2005 07:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The real GC issue is not whether or not they apply to these prisoners -- and I think it would be useful to stop making assumptions about this* -- but that the relevant training given to US personnel assumes that they do apply. So when you say that the GC do not apply, you are removing a portion of the soldier's training. What are you replacing it with? What replaces the field manual? This report and the others answer that question: discretion that does not always advance the mission.

* What uniform is a guy from England supposed to wear when traveling to Gambia on business? What uniform are people supposed to wear in Bosnian courthouses when the courts order them released for lack of evidence?

Posted by: CharleyCarp at July 14, 2005 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

People, if you've been paying attention, U.S. policy has been to apply Geneva broadly, whether a detainee technically qualifies or not, because we are Just That Good.

So quibbling over whether it applies legally is missing the point.

Posted by: Anderson at July 14, 2005 10:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No, Anderson, it is not missing the point. The point is that we have been treating them far better than they merit (based on the GC). We are not treating them worse than we are supposed to be treating them, which has been the cry of the anti-Bush group.

Posted by: exhelodrvr at July 14, 2005 11:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I must say that I'm really looking forward to a full weekend of coverage from you Greg. I don't think I have your opinion down yet after the last 10 posts, so let me summarize in the hopes you will correct me:

1) Any report anywhere that doesn't support the torture allegations is by definition a whitewash.

2) This obviously goes up the chain of command to SecDef, who should be run out of Washington with panties on his head.

3) The Geneva Convention applies to anyone, anywhere, past or present, for the history of human-on-human violence.

4) We are obviously creating terrorists out of these innocents, as the London bombings make clear.

5) We shouldn't even look crosswise at these people, because We Are Better Than Them (tm). Being better than them strikes mortal fear into thier hearts and will help win the war on terrorism, 'tis true!.

6) Clearly this is THE most important issue in the entire war, and its unfortunate our Geneva protected adversaries knocked it off the front page for a day by killing Londoners. It is far more important than, say, any real success, or any legitimate atrocity committed by our enemy.

Anyways, I used to enjoy this blog before it became All Gitmo All The Time. I get that in the NYT every morning as it is, so I suppose my visits here will become increasingly less frequent.

Posted by: Ed Wood at July 15, 2005 01:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

People, if you've been paying attention, U.S. policy has been to apply Geneva broadly, whether a detainee technically qualifies or not, because we are Just That Good.

The difference is that in one case, the US is required by law to treat a prisoner in a certain way, in the other, the considerations extended to the prisoner are at the discretion of the responsible authority- it is not required by law.

Violations in the former situation are violations of law, in the latter, they may violate a law (the UCMJ forbids torture, for example, regardless of if the person tortured is protected under the GC or not), but it won't be the same laws.

Posted by: rosignol at July 15, 2005 01:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Geneva Convention is a Treaty - not a LAW

AQ has not signed up to any such Treaty as I understand it

Another RUMMY Cheerleader

Gimme an "R" - gimme a "U"....

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 15, 2005 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, Ed Wood, but that is just SO wrong on so many levels. What about the shoe-bomber and the Bali night club bombing? Those events predated Gitmo. The misled innocents who perpetrated the London subway bombing were indoctrinated, just like Richard Reid was.

The way to diminish recruitment of terrorists in the ME is to let them run for office. In Europe the recruiters need to be found and neutralized. The Imams need to start issuing anti-terrorism fatwas.

Ya gotta wake up, man.

Posted by: Chuck Betz at July 15, 2005 06:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue, I agree with you quite frequently, but not this time..

US Constitution, Article VI, second clause:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Treaties are law in the US. That is a little-appreciated reason why the US has declined to become party to quite a few.

Posted by: rosignol at July 17, 2005 09:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by