Friday, March 21, 2008


Snort Worthy Sentence

Today's Denver Post reprinted an anti-American, unsigned op-ed from the Salt Lake Tribune which said we Americans had no moral authority to judge other nations' conduct because of what we do.
Of the U.S. actions condemned by the United Nations Committee on Torture and civil liberties organizations - extraordinary rendition, sexual humiliation of prisoners, detaining terrorist suspects without formal charges or legal representation - waterboarding is perhaps the most heinous.

Extraordinary rendition sounds really scary, but it is merely a quick form of extradition, that is, returning a criminal (or war prisoner of any sort) to his home country. OOOuhhh, very scary, kids. The sexual humiliation of prisoners in Abu Graib continues to be a tempest in a teapot. It happened, but that doesn't mean we do it routinely or it is our policy; indeed, we consider such a thing a crime and the perpetrators went to jail for their violations of the Army Code. Mere prisoners of war, of any sort, (as opposed to war criminals), being held for the duration of the conflict, haven't committed a crime, are never charged, and so don't need lawyers. (That moronic talking point is really getting old). But, of course, it is the end of the list, the crime of crimes, waterboarding, which is the real focus here. It is not torture if done for a matter of seconds, torture if done for a quarter hour or more.

But that's not what put a small part of my venti cappuccino (wet) up my nose. It was this gem: The practice [waterboarding], opposed by 43 retired generals and admirals who fear retribution against U.S. troops...

What? Fear retribution? They are not that silly, are they?

I hate to have to repeat my very brief history of the treatment of American prisoners of war in the last 90 years, but the short version is that we would be very happy if any of our enemies treated our captured guys as well as we treat theirs. It would be such an improvement. Except for some Luftwaffe Stalags, we have not received Geneva Convention treatment since 1918 (funny when the Nazis are the relative good guys). The stories from WWII in the Pacific, from the Korean War and from the Viet Nam War about American prisoners of war are heartbreaking tales of immense suffering. John McCain knows real torture first hand (and he's become hypersensitive as a result). If all that's too ancient history for the handful of naive generals and admirals (ret.) complaining, let's move directly to Gulf War II.

Here's what's happened to just the last 8 guys captured in Iraq:

Private Kristian Menchaca and Private Thomas Tucker (pictured here) were captured in June, 2006. They were hacked to death, their eyes were gouged out and, post mortem, they were dragged behind a vehicle and one of them had his head chopped off.

Spec. Alex Jimenez. Private Byron Fouty and Pfc. Joseph Anzack were captured May 12, 2007. A tape was released saying Jimenez and Fouty were later executed and their bodies buried. Anzack was certainly executed (two in the head, one in the chest) and found floating in the Euphrates.

On January 20, 2007, 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz, Spc. Johnathan Chism, and Pfc. Shawn Falter, were captured and shortly afterwards executed. Their bodies were recovered.

A half minute of simulated drowning is beginning to sound like a day at the beach in comparison to the illegal treatments our soldiers, actual prisoners of war, are actually getting.

Our guys are going to be really tortured, not just sexually humiliated; not subjected to simulated drowning, really murdered. This is what will happen no matter what we do to them. Our enemies are black hearted, illegal combatants. Only a fool would worry that our side will be treated worse if we don't treat them better, because our guys, once taken prisoner, can't be treated any worse.

The blame America firsters responsible for this op-ed suffer from a defect of vision as old as human vision. In alio pediculum, in te ricinum non vides.

Oh, and I'm also getting a little sick of this more recent talking point: Japanese soldiers who used the technique during World War II were tried and convicted as war criminals.

No they weren't, at least not just for waterboarding. The Japanese war criminals we convicted did just what the Jihadists have been doing to our guys, whom they capture in Iraq, that is, shooting them well after the surrender, hacking them to death, gouging their eyes out and cutting their heads off, that is, real war crimes.



You are all over the place here. First, rendition is the extra judicial transportation of a prisoner from one state (nation) to another. It is very different from extradition.

I pass on its legality or desirability except to say that it is embarassing if the bad guy one snatches off of the streets of a free nation turns out to be a normal joe. If he is a bad gut, he disappears into our gulag and who knows or even cares about what happens to him.

Meanwhile, you are correct w/ respect to the historical and current treatment of U.S. prisoners.

That said, it seems to me that the Geneva conventions only apply to tthe treatment of prisoners in conflicts involving nation states.

We are not fighting a nation state in Iraq.

How we treat prisoners is a measure of our own civilization. Clearly, the insurgents in Iraq, for reasons that need not be documented here, are not civilized.

I frequently believe that if we treated captured insurgents in a certain manner, their ability to recruit would be extremely compromised. I realize that blinding, amputation of the right hand, cutting out tongues, and castration are not the hallmarks of a civilized nation but I believe that such methods might prove effective in curtailing recruitment of insurgents or their proxies.

If one sends home a person who accepted a $100.00 to set an IED sans his right hand or his family jewels, I think the price of setting one of these devices would rise dramatically.

From an economics point of view, failing to reciprocate to bad treatment of our guys sets up some perverse incentives. There is a tactical advantage to be gained from violating the requirements of the conventions. If that advantage is not counterbalanced by corresponding disadvantages for the violator, the incentive to violate is quite strong.

Now, these perverse incentives aren't the only issue. There are advantages from treating prisoners well even in the absence of reciprocity. (Higher professionalism of your forces, increased probability of enemy surrender, whatever.) The difficult question is where the balance lies.

Incidentally, these incentives were well understood by the original drafters of the early Hague and Geneva conventions. That's why the protections originally only applied to nationals of signatory nations, why there is a requirement for uniforms, and so on. But note that the third Geneva convention requires high-contracting powers (state signatories) to accord the same protections to non-signatories, but only if the non-signatory accepts and abides by the treaty requirements:

"Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof." (Emphasis added.)

ps. Regarding, "...the perpetrators went to jail for their violations of the Army Code", the terminology you want is "UCMJ" or "Uniform Code of Military Justice" not "Army Code". The code is not service-specific.
Thanks both for the comments. Tone, be careful about comparing us to the Soviet Union. We are nothing like them. Rendition is extradition by other means. It's still transporting a prisoner to his home state. Your complaint is that it's "extra judicial" Oh no, fighting a war without involving judges, oh, the horror. Castration as part of our war effort? I don't go that far. Not even close.
Doug, missed you last night at the blogger party. UCMJ, got it. Didn't our Supreme Court dictate Convention treatment to everyone, even the ones who didn't deserve it? Hamden, Hamdi? I can't recall.

Rendition is extra judicial. I do not complain that it is extra judicial but that is what it is. I suppose this brings us to question of what is legal in times of war but my real point is that rendition, as I believe the word is commonly used, is not extradition to one's homeland, but instead transportation to some place other than one's homeland from whereever one is.

thanks for the analysis Doug.
Tony, 'rendition' has a lot of definitions but the only legal one was exactly the same as extradition. 'Extraordinary rendition' was coined in 1983 (it didn't say by whom) and means kinda what you said--seized in one country and sent to another where torture, etc. rules are lax. It didn't say that the lax rules country was not the criminal's home country. I'll look at some examples of it and get back in a new post.
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