Skipping over ‘humiliating and degrading treatment’

SKIPPING OVER ‘HUMILIATING AND DEGRADING TREATMENT’….The LA Times has a very disturbing report today on the Pentagon putting together a guide for troops on how to handle detainees — and leaving a few key details out.

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans “humiliating and degrading treatment,” according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military’s decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.

The internal debate within the administration on this has been going on for far too long. We learned several months ago that in late 2005, Pentagon officials and lawyers were discussing whether these same Geneva Convention provisions needed to be followed. The decision was pushed off because top Bush administration officials opposed conventions that barred cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. The debate, alas, is still ongoing.

This need not be complicated. If the president and his team want the world to believe that incidents of torture are “aberrations” and the work of a few “bad apples,” and that the United States follows humane standards, aside from our rendition policies and secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, then here’s an opportunity to make an unambiguous statement.

“The rest of the world is completely convinced that we are busy torturing people,” said Oona A. Hathaway, an expert in international law at Yale Law School. “Whether that is true or not, the fact we keep refusing to provide these protections in our formal directives puts a lot of fuel on the fire.”

I can’t help but wonder if Bush administration officials know or care about how this undermines our standing and credibility in the world. It’s simply breathtaking. As Kevin put it a while back, “It’s simply impossible to persuade the rest of the world that we’re the good guys as long as we persist in plainly repugnant behavior.”