The United States has followed the conventions terms for nearly sixty years. Throughout the Cold War in a bipolar battle of two systems against each other, with thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other, promising the end of all life on this planet - we never needed it redefined. We did not need it redefined in Korea. We did not need it redefined in Vietnam. We did not need it redefined in the First Gulf War, indeed we used it to warn Saddam Hussein to follow its terms.
From the Democratic Congresses through Republican the Geneva Convention was untouched, under Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton no one ever sought to narrow its purposefully broad parameters.
Recently 29 former high-ranking military officers wrote a letter to John Warner about their opposition to the redefinition. It is this letter that Colin Powell endorsed. The original of that letter is here, a portion of it is below, with highlighting by me:
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions provides the minimum standards for humane treatment and fair justice that apply to anyone captured in armed conflict. These standards were specifically designed to ensure that those who fall outside the other, more extensive, protections of the Conventions are treated in accordance with the values of civilized nations. The framers of the Conventions, including the American representatives, in particular wanted to ensure that Common Article 3 would apply in situations where a state party to the treaty, like the United States, rights an adversary that is not a party, including irregular forces like al Qaeda. The United States military has abided by the basic requirements of Common Article 3 in every conflict since the Conventions were adopted. In each case, we applied the Geneva Conventions -- including, at a minimum, Common Article 3 -- even to enemies that systematically violated the Conventions themselves.
We have abided by this standard in our own conduct for a simple reason: the same standard serves to protect American servicemen and women when they engage in conflicts covered by Common Article 3. Preserving the integrity of this standard has become increasingly important in recent years when our adversaries often are not nation-states. Congress acted in 1997 to further this goal by criminalizing violations of Common Article 3 in the War Crimes Act, enablng us to hold accountable those who abuse our captured personnel, no matter the nature of the armed conflict.
If any agency of the U.S. government is excused from compliance with these standards, or if we seek to redefine what Common Article 3 requires, we should not imagine that our enemies will take notice of the technical distinctions when they hold U.S. prisoners captive. If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized or considered permissible under a restrictive interpretation of Common Article 3, we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.
This is not just a theoretical concern. We have people deployed right now in theaters where Common Article 3 is the only source of legal protection should they be captured. If we allow that standard to be eroded, we put their safety at greater risk.
Bush's attitude and demeanor yesterday was both petulant and frightening. Petulant because you could literally see him pissed that one of Rove's "security" talking point-cudgels was blowing up before his eyes because some Republicans joined with Democrats in opposing the sadism chorus; frightening because it is pretty clear that Bush, thinks more than just whether torture is a tool, Mr. "The Third Awakening is Coming" gets off on torturing people. Sorry, Georgie, but I have a feeling that "the Jesus" being a fellow victim of torture, like McCain, would fall on the side of the Geneva Convention.
The evidence that Bush gets his rocks off on torture was made pretty clear by Ron Suskind:
Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
And then there is this:
Two things in particular stuck out for me. Suskind has CIA sources saying that, as part of the torture devised by Bush and Rumsfeld for Khalid Sheik Muhammed, they threatened to harm his wife and children if he did not talk. KSM told the interrogators to go ahead and kill his family, if necessary. I find it telling that the president, in this instance, became the moral equivalent of a mafia boss, committing what is clearly a violation of the Geneva Conventions, even if his motives were good ones. KSM is a disgusting, evil, Jihadist mass murderer. But he gave up no useful intelligence under this sort of tactic and succeeded in reducing the president of the United States to an evil thug, threatening violence against innocent children.
Within the next few weeks the International Red Cross will be vilified by the right-wing as they report the fourteen individuals removed from "secret prisons" to GITMO were tortured, usually it appears through waterboarding. All the Bush Administration and its enablers will shout is how "evil" these men are and they deserved such treatment. No word will be mentioned by them of what they have used these men to become themselves. And that also is a tragedy, as well as a crime.