Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Prisoners, Torture and Hypocrisy

 

When I was a journalist working in China back in the early 1990s, I was furious when two administrations in the U.S.–both the first Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration–condoned executions of American death row prisoners from foreign countries who had been arrested and tried without their home countries’ embassies being notified. The current Bush Administration has taken the same cavalier approach to international law also, which clearly requires that an embassy be notified when one of its nationals is arrested in a country, and further, that that embassy be permitted to have access to the detained individual and to provide a lawyer.

I was furious because America’s willful and repeated violation of this basic international agreement was a direct threat to my personal health and safety. I was going out into the Chinese countryside as a journalist–often without the benefit or a journalist’s visa, which can take weeks to obtain and which often is denied–and was at risk of being arrested by Chinese security forces. In fact, I was brought in and interrogated by the Public Security Bureau during one such journalistic venture to a relatively remote area of Anhui Province, and I can report that the experience was harrowing.

How could I hope to have the protection and help of my embassy in China if my own country was thumbing its nose at international law?

Now we see the same thing happening during the war on Iraq, where the implications are even more serious as–predictably–.American soldiers begin to be captured by Iraqi forces.

The Bush administration is loudly decrying their use by Iraq as propaganda on Arab television, where they have been shown being questioned about what they were doing in Iraq. It’s good domestic PR. After all, their treatment, while so far thankfully not brutal, is in violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs. But nobody outside the U.S. is going to take the American protests seriously.

The sad truth is that the U.S. is in no position to make a complaint, for America too has been in gross violation of that convention. Iraqi soldiers taken prisoner during this war have been marched before American television cameras, they have been blindfolded and terrorized by U.S. soldiers taking them into custody, and their faces have been displayed on American television–all clear violations of international law.

But the U.S. is doing even worse with regard to other POWs it has captured in Afghanistan. Along with most international legal scholars, I would argue that anyone fighting U.S. forces in that country were soldiers in a war, and that once captured, they should have been held in accordance with the Geneva Convention. They have not been so treated, however.

Certain of those captured have been either turned over to other countries’ security forces–for example those of Egypt or Pakistan–where they reportedly have been subjected to torture, or they have been held at a U.S. base in Afghanistan, and also subjected to conditions that can only be described as torture, or in some cases–well over 600–they have been transported, bound and hooded, to a concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are caged in individual pens and held in a legal limbo–not prisoners and not prisoners of war.

Arguably the non-Afghan members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan might be termed “unlawful combatants” by the U.S., and denied POW status, though this is making a rather fine distinction. Al Qaeda fighters, while they might have originally been in Afghanistan as terrorist trainees, seem to have been acting as a legitimate ally of the government of Afghanistan at the time of their capture, fighting alongside government forces. But even granting that distinction, the U.S. also has taken captured Afghan Taliban fighters, who clearly were the official army of the government of Afghanistan, off to Guantanamo, denying them too, any POW status.

The whole world sees this treatment of captured Afghan fighters as the most outrageous violation of international law and the Geneva Convention, yet the U.S., even knowing it was about to become involved in a war in the Middle East, went ahead with this outlaw behavior.

All it has done in the process is open the door to similar abuse of captured Americans. After all, if the U.S. is seen as fighting an illegal war of aggression, might not Iraq decide that any soldiers it catches are not POWs at all, but rather “unlawful combatants”?

One has to wonder at the hubris of Bush Administration policy-makers, who seem to think that they can trample over any international rules and agreements they want, without suffering any consequences.

The same might be said of the charge that Fedayeen irregulars are violating international law by dressing up in civilian clothes and attacking American and British troops in Iraq by deceit. While this guerrilla war tactic is clearly a violation of the international rules of war, which are designed to minimize civilian casualties, we know that U.S. special forces, such as the Delta Force troops, have also been dressing as local civilians in the Afghanistan conflict (they were shown doing this in the American media), and it strains belief to think that they are not doing the same thing now in Iraq.

The Bush Administration is counting on the jingoistic American media to ignore its own blatant violations of international law in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, while it loudly condemns Iraq’s violations as evidence of the evil of the enemy. So far their hopes have been largely rewarded domestically. But the rest of the world is seeing this two-faced policy on POWs for what it is.

So we have the pathetic picture of President Bush, with a straight face, condemning first Iraq for violating the Geneva Convention on POW treatment and then Russia for “violating U.N. sanctions” against Iraq! This from a Commander-in-Chief who has condoned and continues to condone the most egregious violations of prisoner of war rules, and who has violated the most basic part of the U.N. charter by initiating an unprovoked war of aggression against a member state without the sanction of the Security Council.

An old adage about war has long been: the winner makes the rules. But an older adage should be on the mind of both this chickenhawk administration and the minds of the soldiers who are being asked to put their lives on the line for its ill-conceived aggressive policies: as you sow, so shall your reap.

DAVID LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time, an investigation into the death penalty case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Find out more about Lindorff on his website.

Today’s Features

Gary Leupp
What Democracy Looks Like: the Streets of Cairo

Bill and Kathleen Christison
An Interview with Hanan Ashrawi

Bruce Jackson
Why Protest? Why Write?

Uri Avnery
Bitter Rice: Thoughts and Warnings on the War

Jason Leopold
Blood Indicator: Casualties and the Stock Market

Jeffrey St. Clair
Life During Wartime

Gilad Atzmon
Strategic Blunders by American Generals

Ralph Nader
A Pre-emptive War on a Defenseless Country

Website of the War
Iraq Body Count

Keep CounterPunch Alive:
Make a Tax-Deductible Donation Today Online!

home / subscribe / about us / books / archives / search / links /

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail