Saturday, September 16, 2006


President Bush insists he needs a new law denying basic rights to terrorism suspects and granting American torturers a "get out of jail free" card because the Geneva Conventions are "vague". Really? Let's take a look at the section in question, Common Article 3. This is common to all the Conventions, and the core of it states:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all cases be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth of wealth, or any other similar criteria.

(Emphasis added)

I think that's fairly clear: people taking no part in combat - which means those rotting in places like Guantanamo Bay or in the US's secret gulags - must be treated humanely. The only possible point of "vagueness" is what constitutes humane treatment - but given that the Bush administration has repeatedly promised humane treatment despite its assertions that its prisoners are not covered by Geneva, you'd think they have some idea. But just as a baseline, you can be sure that it rules out starving, baking or freezing people.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

Again, there's absolutely no vagueness here: you are not allowed to torture people, or subject them to "cruel treatment". So, no waterboading or strapado, beatings and ERFings...

(b) taking of hostages;

No holding people's kids and threatening them either...

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

No stripping people, forcing them to wear women's underwear, or sticking them on a leash and forcing them to do dog tricks...

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

No kangaroo courts...

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

And no denying medical care (in particular, painkillers) in an effort to get them to talk.

There is no "vagueness" here. To the contrary, it is perfectly clear: the way the US has been treating prisoners is contrary to its international obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, and to its domestic obligations under US law. And those who have set this policy or ordered or participated in this treatment should be held to account.


You keep posting about Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisions (so secret every body seems to know they exist) - where the US does treat prisioners humanely.

You link to articles which state kids are being treated with the best of care - after all the US could of left them in Pakistan on the street.

Or to your own writings based on supposed sources.

Not one of your posts I have read have you every asked for people to be held to account for beheadings and torture, or forced converwsions to Islam - in fact as far as I can see you want them to win and to continue on.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 01:04:00 PM

you always get your facts wrong.

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:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

from article 4 above

IE NOTE NO UNIFORMS AND HIDDEN WEAPONS EQUALS SUMMARY EXECUTION These people have no greater rights the agent proveacuteurs

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 01:09:00 PM

I think this is a good post and it's hugely encouraging from s US perspective to see a dyed-in-the-wool conservative like Sen. Lindsay Graham come out against an outrage like this bill. Sometimes even conservatives see clearly...

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 01:42:00 PM

As for the first post by my fellow anon, I disagree that prisoners ARE being treated humanely. If they are, why the need for a law that prevents US personal from being accused of war crimes?

But the point about Islam is better. Idiot, you've never displayed 1/10th of your outrage against America when faced with the endless torrent of atrocities commtied by Muslims. What DO you think of forced conversion, of Islamic laws like Pakistan's statues on rape, and of modern-day slavery? Are you consistent in your stance on human rights? Is a Muslim atrocity as bad as an American atrocity?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 01:49:00 PM

Why do I amd many others hold the United States to a higher standrad than most other countries?

Because it proclaims itself as being of a higher standard. Freedom, liberty, justice, human rights and the right to a fair trial are all things that are part of what the US claims as its heritage.

If you're going to declare yourself a high standard, then prepare to be judged by that standard.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 02:10:00 PM

George: what bullshit. Firstly, if you have ever visited an Islamic country you will quickly realise that the righteousness of islam is heralded every bit a shrilly as anything the US has ever said of itself. Islam is the only way and all other religions/ideologies unclean and hostile to life. Most school textbooks in Islamic countries teach religious prejudice and the sanctity of the Ummah.

Secondly, even if the US was the only nation to have a high opinion of its practices, why should we ignore human suffering elsewhere in order to point out this hypocrisy? If you think a Bahai imprisoned in Iran deserves less attention than an A/Q prisoner in Gitmo, you're a hypocrite yourself.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 02:41:00 PM

Anon2: to the contrary: once they're captured, Common Article 3 applies. That's not just the opinion of the ICRC (who are considered the "guardians" of the Geneva Conventions) and of decent people around the world, but also of the US Supreme Court.

Anon4: I'm perfectly consistent, and I have posted on some of the issues you point out. For example, I kicked up a shitstorm over women's rights in Pakistan when President Musharraf came to visit, and I've spoken out against the death penalty and rape laws in Iran, about Darfur, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and atrocities in various other places. The reason I tend to focus on the US rather than other regimes is primarily that people try and argue the fact. Condemnations of human rights abuses in, say, Iran petty much go without saying - everyone thinks it is vile, and no-one tries to defend what those governments are doing (not even the governments themselves - unlike the US, they have a sense of shame). Conversely, when I post about the US, I get a creepy little horde of anonymous trolls from the sewer popping up and trying to argue that "waterboarding isn't torture" or that "they're just enemy combatants" or that it is "justifiable by necessity", or trying to claim that I'm being inconsistent. Meanwhile, the US government remains in stark denial of the fact that what they are doing constitutes torture, and that their preferred regime - stripping, nudity, freezing, beating, stress-positions and waterboarding - is pretty much identical to that used by the Gestapo. The fact that people are trying to defend the indefensible in this way suggests that they need reminding of just how vile torture is, and just how morally bankrupt their position is.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/16/2006 06:08:00 PM

"creepy little horde of anonymous trolls" ? There are around half a dozen of these pustules - hardly what you'd call a horde.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/16/2006 06:57:00 PM

Anon 5(get a name or pseudonym please): Please don't assume what human rights campaigning or contact with Islam I have.

The fact remains, that no other country's government currently displays the degree of disconnect between its stated intentions and its actions.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 12:02:00 AM

why do we hold the United States to a higher standard?

Because we are all Roman Citizens.

Posted by Sanctuary : 9/17/2006 04:55:00 AM

Hmm... I certainly don't see myself as a troll, but to please you, I'll distinguish myself as 123. How's that?

Sanctuary: I'm sorry you show such a lack of concern for the rights of your fellow human beings. To hold the US (or any country) to a "higher standard" regarding human rights necessarily means to hold other countries to a lower one. This means by definition you would be less concerned about the torture of a human being by the Chinese govt than you would by the American govt. How appalling. Human rights, to be called HUMAN rights, must by definition be universal, which would suggest an even standard applied without fear or favour. Why do you disagree with this?

To give you another example, if I loudly proclaimed that I held whites to a higher moral standard than blacks, I would justly be accused of racism: to demand of the US what you do not equally demand of China or Saudi Arabia is similarly skewed.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 05:20:00 AM


The various nations of the earth were never going to meet some uniform standard of human rights and legal protections. There were always going to be places doing well and places that are hell on earth. If we can agree that the goal is to improve standards in general, then the actions of one of the key standard setters to slip backwards is deeply counter-productive.

A church pastor knows he/she must demonstrate the standard they preach. We expect that our politicians do not claim honesty, and then commit blatant lies. We hold those who claim higher moral stature to the very standards they preach.

The USA has abrogated to itself the right to build and deploy nuclear weapons, justifying this with it's record of being a democratic, "rule of law" nation. It cannot slip back from those standards without being called on it.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 07:51:00 AM

I don't believe Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group are in fact parties to the Geneva convention, so why should the US extend the pact's protections to them?


Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 08:47:00 AM

> The various nations of the earth were never going to meet some uniform standard of human rights and legal protections.

I’m not sure that is as hard as it sounds. It looks hard because we apply so little serious effort to making it happen (take Sudan or the Congo for example).

>then the actions of one of the key standard setters to slip backwards is deeply counter-productive.

I remember an analogy used to talk about why Sept 11 was significant regarding cockroaches in the garden being a worry but when you find cockroaches in the cupboard you know you’ve got a big problem.

> We hold those who claim higher moral stature to the very standards they preach.

This is a tool we use to disarm their pressure upon us to reach higher standards. For example Helen Clark's statement about how she looked forward to the first debate on honesty.
Ie it is for the most part an argument against morality.

> It cannot slip back from those standards without being called on it.

and it should be of course I should think that is beyond doubt. the question is how one allocates ones attention between various worthy causes.

Posted by Genius : 9/17/2006 08:51:00 AM

Thoughtful comments logix, but again they seem to smack of defeatism to me. Why should it seem impossible that a basic framework of human rights be extended across the globe? To even start to accept that Saudi Arabia will treat its women like animals, or that Russia or China will never permit a free press, or that Frane will test its nuclear weapons where it chooses is to leave yourself with little to stand on when it comes to criticising America. You speak in terms of pastors, of 'special cases', who need to be holier and purer than the rest: it should never be so.

I think in terms of citizens, all with equal rights and responsibilities. The Governments of Pakistan and North Korea should have exactly the same expectations placed ont them concerning the welfare and rights of their citizens as the govt of the US.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 10:03:00 AM


I'm sorry, but I think the racism example is very valid. To hold a section or group within a greater whole to a higher moral standard than others is to say that you think they ar morally superior: this is precisely the white man's burden of Kipling: we must expect more of ourselves than we do of the natives because we are morally superior beings.

And indeed to say "we expect things from the US that we don't from China/Iran/North Korea/Sudan/etc" is to replicate the above argument on a national, rather than racial level. To be more concerned about Guantanamo Bay than about Women in Pakistan or Falun Gong Practioners in China smacks of hypocrisy and double standards. I fail to see why differing standards should be applied to different nations.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 10:20:00 AM

Westerners are more criticial of Western-state atrocities because...

a. We feel like we have more power over them, and thus feel more responsible for their actions.

b. We hear more frequently the claims of righteousness by those governments, and hypocrisy is very distasteful.

Posted by Ryan Sproull : 9/17/2006 11:47:00 AM

So we have one of you saying that we hold human rights violations as equally severe across the board, and another saying that it is just to concentrate on the West's wrongdoings. Which is it? It seems to me that many here want to do both at once, which is impossible. One is either 'more critical' of Western wrongdoings, which condemns those unlucky enough to be tortured/imprisioned/killed by NON Western governments to a secondary concern at best (at worst a mere case of cultural 'difference'), or one treats all crimes against humans as equally severe, in which case America's human rights violations pale into insignificance when compared with China or Russia or Sudan or Saudi Arabia or...

You can't have it both ways. Which is it to be?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 01:10:00 PM

Guantanamo Bay and your so called secret prisons are where prisioners are treated humanley.

Journalists that have visited Guantanamo Bay have said that the prisioners are well treated. In fact some journalists have said they are too well treated and given too many rights.

I don't get this obession with closing down Guantanamo Bay.

The prisoners have no where else to go as nobody will except them - they have repeatedly stated that the will continue the war against the US if released.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 01:33:00 PM

So James, if the US stopped caliming to "respect indiviual dignity", would you allow it more leeway regarding its human rights record? And should Sudan's silence or lack of concern for its (genocidal) human rights record mean we should pay less attention to it? You seem to be arguing that it's not the human suffering that counts for you, but the self-image of respective nations with regard to their H/R record. This is absurd.

For the record I utterly oppose the afore-mentioned US legislation, but I remain far MORE appalled with the likes of Sudan and Saudi, Iran, Russia, China, etc...

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 01:45:00 PM

"Journalists that have visited Guantanamo Bay have said that the prisioners are well treated. In fact some journalists have said they are too well treated and given too many rights."

You don't give rights, you recognise them.

Posted by Ryan Sproull : 9/17/2006 02:49:00 PM

"You don't give rights, you recognise them."

I can give you the right to enter my house, or the right to return for refund an item to my shop (even though that item isn't defective), or (if I was Minister of Immigration) the right to live in my country.

You can definitely give rights to people, and the Geneva Conventions do just that.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 9/17/2006 02:59:00 PM

Others are indeed far worse than the US - this is a statement of fact, and remains so without having to proffer itself as an apology for current policy.

As for your silly comment about nations "not believing in liberties" (or having their own legitimate cultural mores - which seems what you're getting at), I would find it hard to think of a more arrogant Western view. If you were a woman in Saudi Arabia, would you see the right to drive a car or attain a divorce as foreign? Perhaps you might; however many do not. In Pakistan would it be the "imposition of a foreign standard" to demand that men can be prosecuted for gang-raping women? To the men, probably. However, I would suggest not to the victim.

And as for your point about being "more appalled by nations that see nothing wrong [with human rights violations], you must surely be joking if you see this as being the US.

Let me ask you: do you think Saudi Arabia sees their sexual apartheid as just? Of course they do. Does China believe it was right to have invaded Tibet? Absolutely. Do most Russians believe leveling Grozny was right; indeed - it ensured Putin's re-election. Now - how is America different here?

So - your point that I should be "more appalled with countries that see nothing wrong" with their practices dosn't really hold up, does it? The reason this legislation may not pass is precisely because many Americans DO see something wrong with it - and they, thankfully, have more voice, and more chance to change things, than a Pakistani woman. That's the glory of democracy...

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 03:19:00 PM

And Graeme - a very concise post. Indeed.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 03:22:00 PM

the key assumption here seems to be

1) we have limited power to be critical and we need to share it out.

- I have to be sympathetic to this since I have talked to some powerful people in China who were pretty clear that the USA was much worse than China. I don't think they USED to think that way.

2) the valid point by person unknown
" a. We feel like we have more power over them" ie greater return on effort for our critique.

3) the standard litle person argument
"what the big guys like the USA do matters much more than what the little guy like China or Sudan do"
which has some validity in a rather unleftist bluntly pragmatic way.

And the one we seem to be focused on
4) "hypocrisy is very distasteful."

ie the yuck factor at someone saying they are good. like
"I liked Stalin... at least when Stalin said he was going to kill you he was REALLY going to kill you!"

I htink the main reason why peopel hate hypocrisy is because it is such an all purpose tool that is always there to attack in almost any enemy you look at It's an attack that gets lots of bang for next to no buck.

Posted by Genius : 9/17/2006 03:44:00 PM

If I've misinterpreted anything, apologies, but your points seem to be clear - that The US is brazen in its disregard for human rights, whilst other countries are stealthy, and this should add to the outrage of any decent-minded individual. If this is indeed your point I disagree, but I must work and away from the discussion...

Posted by Anonymous : 9/17/2006 04:44:00 PM