September 16th, 2006


Factchecking the President's press conference.

Today, Dubya went on the attack against both Republicans and Democrats who opposed his attempts to weaken how the U.S. applies the Geneva Conventions to prisoners.

So, I'm taking a few key quotes of his, doing a bit of factchecking, and giving a response.

"This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention."

What he's *NOT* saying is that the debate is happening because we violated standard definitions of the Geneva Convention, violated our international agreements, and violated international law.

All the conservative-dominated Supreme Court did was remind him of law and legal precidents that have existed for decades. They certainly didn't create new law, and don't deserve to be blamed for doing their jobs. Rather, this is simply is a reminder that sometimes the system works.

"Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, 'outrages upon human dignity'?"

Bush's statement is misleading, in that he did not cite the full Geneva Convention definition of the term, which specifically forbids "humiliating and degrading treatment". To clarify even further, the International Criminal Court has created a legal definition of the phrase "outrages upon personal dignity" -- one that has been successfully applied for years.

"the professionals will not step up unless there's clarity in the law. So Congress has got a decision to make: Do you want the program to go forward or not?"

These professionals are clearly not members of the Armed Forces, who recently testified before the Senate that they are -- and have been -- routinely trained to comply with Common Article 3 and that complying would not impede their operations. They know what is legal and what is not in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and have no problem, either legally or operationally, in complying with it. They even testified to the fact that intelligence given under duress is often useless, whereas intelligence given freely is usually operational. 

Interestingly enough, this testimony squares with the thoughts on torture of pecunium, who is a military interrogator and trainer of fellow interrogators. 

Essentially, Bush is saying that the CIA has indicated a desire to stop interrogating prisoners in ways that arguably violate the Geneva Conventions and which provide questionable intelligence. To me, this seems like a good decision on their part.

"what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal." 

The changes that Bush favors seem to indicate that protecting "our professionals" is not his only concern. If it was, he wouldn't be including legislation that retroactively protects himself and his administration against prosecution for war crimes too.

Note too, that exemption from prosecution does not apply to active duty soldiers. If a public scandal happens in the future where soldiers are shown to be abusing prisoners, those soldiers can be tried and convicted as scapegoats to appease the public's anger, even it is found that policymakers directly issued the orders for them to violate the Geneva Conventions. Again, policymakers would be entirely exempt from prosecution.  

Bush's proposed remedy for any potential vagueness in the phrases "outrages upon human dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" is not to clearly define what constitutes such outrages. Rather, it is to no longer make them war crimes at all. 

Under his proposed legislation, mistreatment of prisoners such as forced nakedness, lack of access to basic sanitation, forcing prisoners to urinate or defecate on themselves, use of dog leashes, forced sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation techniques, water boarding, and threats of physical, mental, or sexual violence which were commonplace in Abu Ghraib, would all be perfectly legal. 

What George Bush proposes would even give approval for techniques such as hypothermia and forced stress positions, which have been implicated as the cause of death for several Iraqi and Afghani prisoners. 

Most importantly, it would set a legal precident that would provide legal cover for those who would take U.S. citizens prisoner and treat them in the same manner. In that sense, Bush's proposed legislation does not protect our professionals who may be captured by the enemy. Rather, it puts them all in extreme danger.