Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sinking to our enemies' level

Here's one of those articles that makes one go "hmmmm", interesting point.

Sinking to our enemies' level

By Michael Kessler; Jan 18, 2005; SALON.COM

He's talking about the way the U.S. has been treating the enemy combatants we captured during the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, for that matter, the discussion applies to the torture applied to prisoners in (at least) the Abu Ghraib prison. These acts are reprehensible to most Americans, and to Christian values, so why is our government going about doing these things?

Well, in part it was because of justifications written by Alberto Gonzales, then a lawyer working in the middle levels of government, and now having been apointed to be the Attorney General to replace Ashcroft. Among the justifications Gonzales wrote, is an opinion that the Geneva Conventions are outdated and have quaint provisions in todays age.

This is what seems abhorrent, that our government is calling quaint a well regarded piece of international legislation. And, in the process of calling it quaint, has decided to attach U.S. actions to torture. Hence the title of the article, we are sinking to the levels of our enemies.

One of the points that makes me go hmmm.... is to discuss the definitions in the Geneva Convention. First, the conventions applies to soldiers who are assumed to be part of the standing army of a nation-state. Well, last I checked, Al Qaeda was not a nation-state, and it was not the standing army of Afghanistan. The Taliban, on the other hand, was the standing army of Afghanistan, and one could reason that the geurilla fighters in Iraq are in some way a not-so-standing army defending Iraq against invaders.

But, not only do the Geneva Conventions apply to standing armies, but they only apply to the standing armies of countries that agreed to the Convention.

This last makes a certain amount of sense, yes? In order for an agreement to apply to me, I need to agree to it. If I haven't agreed to a particular contract then the contract doesn't apply to me. This in a way gives an incentive for countries to agree to the Convention, since the Convention provides protection to the soldiers who are fighting wars. On the other hand, perhaps the Convention puts on some limitations or other cost some countries don't want to agree to, so they don't sign on with the Convention. It's likely that Afghanistan's government before the U.S. invasion (the Taliban) had not agreed to the Convention.

Hence, by a strict reading of the letter of the law, the rules against torture do not apply to fighters captured in Afghanistan. Either they were Al Qaeda, not covered because they're a private army, or they're Taliban, and not covered because the Taliban likely didn't agree to the contract. And, in Iraq, it's technically correct to say the fighters resisting the U.S. occupation are not the national army of Iraq.

The next point that makes one go hmmmmm.... is to notice how the Bush Administration is sticking with the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law. Obviously the Geneva Convention has a purpose to protect human dignity, and that's the spirit of that particular law.

It makes me wonder, what are they trying to hide by being so particular about the letter of the law?