war crimes = war crimes

While we're thinking about Canada treading a path independent of the United States, we should take a careful look at what road the US is actually on.

If you haven't seen this column by Scott Horton in Harper's, and the Andrew Sullivan post it references, please read both. They've been sitting in my inbox for more than a month, but it's never too late to see clearly. Thanks to both James and Allan for sending this on the same day.
One of the truly disturbing aspects of the Bush Administration's program of "enhanced interrogation techniques" is that there's nothing new about them. Each of the techniques is well known; each has a very long legacy. The practice of waterboarding, for instance, was closely associated with the Spanish Inquisition, and appears diagramed and explained in woodcut prints from the early sixteenth century. Similarly, the practice we know as the "cold cell" – or hypothermia – was carefully developed by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, as a means of preparing prisoners for interrogation. The Soviets used the motto "no blood, no shame," and the same motto recently emerged in units of the American armed forces in Iraq.

Many of these techniques were also practiced during World War II and the years leading up to it. They were certainly not practiced by the United States, however. The practitioners were German, particularly the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the intelligence arm of the SS. The procedures were known as "enhanced interrogation techniques," or in German, verschärfte Vernehmung.

Today, Andrew Sullivan reproduces the Gestapo memorandum which set the guidelines for verschärfte Vernehmung. One of the most striking things about it is that, compared with what Dick Cheney and company want, it is mild. The Gestapo memo forbids waterboarding, hypothermia and several other techniques that the Bush Administration permits. And it imposed strict limits on how these "enhanced techniques" could be used – requiring oversight and permits. But what happened in practice? As usual, there was a race to the bottom and the obstacles put in place were quickly overcome.

Sullivan reviews the Norwegian war crimes trials in which the use of verschärfte Vernehmung was established as a war crime, and a capital offense. He includes testimony of a Dachau survivor describing treatment which is within the limits of the "program" prescribed by President Bush. In my mind, this is mandatory reading, and more evidence of the depraved thinking of U.S. leaders who have pushed the "program" forward. Is it reductio ad Hitleram to even raise this? That will be the dismissive charge. And on this point, I'm afraid, we need to insist that the accused stand their ground and defend themselves on the merits:
Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture – "enhanced interrogation techniques" – is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

If you're not familiar with Andrew Sullivan, he's no bleeding-heart lefty. He's perhaps best described as a conservative libertarian. But this is not about politics. This is simply about being human.


redsock said...

In your previous post you quoted political science scholar Michael Byers:

"Harper ... declared last July that Israel's response to a Hezbollah raid in northern Israel was "measured." The Israel Defence Forces bombed arterial roads, bridges, power and gasoline stations as well as Beirut's international airport ... More than a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed."

What Harper supports is the very definition of a war crime.

Articles 51, 52, 54 and 56 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, state:

"The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited. ...

"Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. ...

"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive. ...

Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population."

L-girl said...

Thanks, Allan. Good dot-connecting there.