Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.
The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards — one for traditional prisoners of war and another for "unlawful combatants" captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation's military force. It will ban the use of such controversial methods as forcing prisoners to endure long periods of solitary confinement, using military dogs to threaten prisoners, putting hoods over inmates' heads and strapping detainees to boards and dunking them in water to simulate drowning, defense officials said.
And another attempt at the usurpation of the law:
The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush administration is quietly circulating draft legislation to eliminate crucial parts of the War Crimes Act. Observers on The Hill say the Administration plans to slip it through Congress this fall while there still is a guaranteed Republican majority--perhaps as part of the military appropriations bill, the proposals for Guantánamo tribunals or a new catch-all "anti-terrorism" package.
Why are they so eager to get rid of it?
As David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center pointed out in the August 10 issue of The New York Review of Books, the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rusmfeld "suggests that President Bush has already committed a war crime, simply by establishing the [Guantánamo] military tribunals and subjecting detainees to them" because "the Court found that the tribunals violate Common Article 3--and under the War Crimes Act, any violation of Common Article 3 is a war crime." A similar argument would indicate that top US officials have also committed war crimes by justifying interrogation methods that, according to the testimony of US military lawyers, also violate Common Article 3.
Of course we have to be realistic. The President will never be charged with committing a war crime. Nor in my opinion, should he be (impeachment is another story.....) But there are higher-ups in this administration that would like very much not to face the fear of prosecution for giving both tacit and explicit approval to techniques that various members of the military are now rotting in jail for:
Human rights attorney Scott Horton told Democracy Now! on August 16 that one of the purposes of the proposed legislation is "to grant immunity or impunity to certain individuals. And these are mostly decision-makers within the government."
Bush officials have not acknowledged that one of their real motives for gutting the War Crimes Act is to protect themselves from being prosecuted for their own crimes. But so far they have apparently offered only one other reason for tampering with the law: The existing law, especially the Geneva language prohibiting "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," is too vague to enforce.
If you think it's unusual to decriminalize an act after the fact, that's because it is. As far as I'm conerned it's like this: these guys knew the law at the time. They took their chances when they made some fanciful arguments to try and get around it, and they lost. If there's a chance that somebody may face prosecution for it some point (not likely, but hey who knows?) then them's the breaks.