No Comment — December 16, 2008, 11:59 am

War Crimes

How often in our nation’s history has a Congressional Committee published a report which concludes that the President is essentially guilty of war crimes? Only once. It happened last week with the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on prisoner abuse. Put a sharper point on it: war crimes that produce the death of a detainee are punishable with the death sentence. And in this case we now have more than one hundred deaths potentially linkable to detainee abuse, linked to the President. Yet to the American mainstream media, which has made virtually no effort to comprehend the report, it was a non-event.

“We do not torture” is a Bush mantra, repeated dozens of times, the all-purpose reply. A member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom once recounted to me how, when the Commission raised the question of torture in a private meeting with Bush, he reacted by saying “We do not torture.”

“There was an element of anger in his voice,” she said. “He was dismissive.”

Bush directed the introduction of torture, overturning two centuries of American doctrine prohibiting it. “First, treat them with humanity,” said George Washington in 1776. “Military necessity shall never admit of torture,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in 1863. But the essence of the Bush position starting from late in 2001 is “Do what it takes to get the results I want and don’t worry, my lawyers will come up with a way to say it isn’t torture.”

Here is how the Levin-McCain Report, with the unanimous support of the thirteen Democratic and twelve Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described Bush’s personal initiative:

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, 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 the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
When George Washington used the word “humane,” he was explicit as to what it meant. In no case would the treatment of the prisoners be in any way inferior to that of our own soldiers; indeed, our soldiers would suffer privations before the prisoners would. The prisoners would be treated with dignity and respect and would not be subject to degradation or humiliation. The religious views of the prisoners would be respected, and any suggestion of contempt towards their religion by any American soldier would be severely punished. George W. Bush overturned each and every one of these orders of the Founding Father.

Note also that Bush introduces the concept of “military necessity” as the escape hatch—the Geneva Conventions would be observed “to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity.” On this point, Abraham Lincoln wrote that the doctrine of military necessity may never be invoked to justify the torture and mistreatment of prisoners–but Bush used the doctrine in just this way.

In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions. JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

So Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer, Jim Haynes, took the key initiative. He decided that he knew just where to find the key torture techniques to implement–the ones that the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese, the Chinese used on American Airmen. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. And Mr. Haynes was convinced that the North Koreans were on to something really useful–and he had the approval of his bosses. The time for accountability has come.

“We do not torture,” said George W. Bush.

The time for accountability has come.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Iowa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Queen and I

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Article
We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I really wanted to learn about the Islamic State, Hassan told me, I ought to speak to his friend Samir, a young gay soldier in the Syrian Army who’d been fighting jihadis intermittently for the past four years.”
Photograph (detail) by Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty

Estimated number of American senior citizens who played tackle football last year:

47,000

An island of fairy penguins was successfully defended against foxes and feral dogs by Maremma sheepdogs.

In Turlock, California, nearly 3,500 samples of bull semen were stolen from the back of a truck.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today