Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And then they came for me

“In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Written as part of a sermon by the Rev. Martin Niemöller in 1945. He was arrested for treason in Hitler’s Germany, and was held at Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, narrowly averting execution.

You've probably already read the recent history recounted below. I found it worth another look, in light of even more recent history:

On Jan. 14, Army Reserve Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. was convicted on five counts of assault, maltreatment and conspiracy in connection with the beating and humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Yet, one of the men instrumental in setting the stage for this is President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who argued that the nature of a “war” against terror places a high premium on factors such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors, thus rendering obsolete the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.

Gonzales was supporting the position of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had written a memorandum Jan. 19, 2002 (a memo to which the State Department objected), in which Rumsfeld ordered the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to inform combat commanders that "Al Quaeda and Taliban individuals...are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949." He ordered that "commanders should "...treat them humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, consistent with the Geneva Conventions of 1949." This order thus gives commanders permission to depart, where they deem it appropriate and a military necessity, from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Note: bolding is mine, for emphasis.

Gonzales penned his memorandum to President Bush Jan. 25, 2002, concerned that certain Geneva language such as "outrages upon personal dignity” and “inhuman treatment" were undefined and it would be difficult to predict the needs and circumstances that could arise in the course of the war on terrorism. (I guess you just never know what you might need to do to somebody.)

Remember, Gonzales is also the one who called the rules of the Geneva Convention "quaint."

Gonzales believed that a determination of inapplicability of the GPW would insulate against future prosecution.

Maybe things like "outrages upon personal dignty" and "inhuman treatment" can be defined by the testimony at Graner’s trial (source: Washington Post, Jan. 15):

*Prisoners were kept naked much of the time, with hoods over their heads, and often chained to the bars in painful "stress positions."

Inmates and U.S. soldiers testified that Army guards regularly beat the prisoners with fists or iron rods, forced them to eat food from a toilet, confronted them with unmuzzled police dogs, and made them wallow naked in the mud outside in near-freezing temperatures.

*Sexual humiliation was another common practice on cellblock One-Alpha, witnesses said.[I won't go into all the grisly details. I'm sure you're familiar with them by now.]

*When one of the prisoners was causing trouble for the guards, prosecutors said, Graner tied a leash around his neck and made him crawl like a dog.

Bush had access to other advice, prominently from retired U.S. Army General and current Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, on Jan. 26, 2002, wrote the President a memo in which he said, "I am concerned that the draft does not squarely present to the President the options that are available to him."

Powell was insistent in his advice: "Treat all detainees consistent with the principles of the GPW."

Powell enumerated the "Cons" of taking the position that the Geneva Covention does not apply:
1. It will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.
2. It has a high cost in terms of negative international reaction, with immediate adverse consquences for our conduct of foreign policy.
3. It will undermine public support among critical allies, making military cooperation more difficult to sustain.
4. Europeans and others will likely have legal problems with extradition or other forms of cooperation in law enforcement, including in bringing terrorists to justice.
5. It may provoke some individual foreign prosecutors to investigate and prosecute our officials and troops.
6. It will make us more vulnerable to domestic and international legal challenge and deprive us of important legal options.

Powell argued that applying the Geneva Conventions "presents a positive international posture, preserves U.S. credibility and moral authority by taking the high ground, and puts us in a better position to demand and receive international support."

Too bad this advice wasn't followed. On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed an order containing the caveat, "As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva," thus opening the door for whatever treatment deemed “necessary."

In other words, the ends justify the means. I can just hear, “But it was necessary.” A nice, fascist approach.

I wonder why one conspirator goes to prison and another one is nominated to be the nation's attorney general, with little fuss about it, thus far.

Why should the Bush administration even need to hash out the legalities of the Geneva Convention, when Americans have always considered abuse of prisoners morally repugnant? An administration that prides itself on being Christian should be able to honor the Geneva Convention.

It's a question of what’s right, moral, and ethical. It's a question of who we are as Americans. Are we people who torture people who are under our control? If we are, we’re no better than Nazis.

If we think it's expedient for prisoners in U.S. hands to be tortured at Abu Ghraib, if we think it's expedient for U.S. citizens to be detained and treated as enemy combatants in Guantanamo, how far away are the gulags for you and me?


Anonymous said...

Not far away at all, if you're gay or outspoken and liberal, or other things the neocons don't like.

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