The Geneva Conventions’ ban on “outrages against personal dignity” does not automatically apply to terrorism suspects in the custody of U.S. intelligence agencies, the Justice Department has suggested to Congress in recent letters that lay out the Bush administration’s interpretation of the international treaty.
Lawyers for the department, offering insight into the legal basis for the CIA’s controversial interrogation program, reasserted in the letters the Bush administration’s long-held view that it has considerable leeway in deciding how the conventions’ rules apply to the harsh questioning of combatants in the war on terrorism.
While the United States is legally bound by the conventions’ Common Article 3 and its requirement to treat detainees humanely, the definition of humane treatment can vary, depending on the detainee’s identity and the importance of the information he possesses, a Justice Department official wrote last September and this March to a Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
“Some prohibitions . . . such as the prohibition on ‘outrages against personal dignity,’ do invite the consideration of the circumstances surrounding the action,” Brian A. Benczkowski, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, asserted in one of the letters.
Benczkowski’s letters were provided to The Washington Post by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who asked the Justice Department to explain the legal foundation for President Bush’s executive order last year authorizing the CIA’s continued interrogation of terrorism suspects. The existence of the letters was first reported last night by the New York Times.
A spokeswoman for Wyden said the administration’s suggestion that the Geneva Conventions could be selectively applied was “stunning.”
“The Geneva Convention in most cases is the only shield that Americans have when they are captured overseas,” the spokeswoman, Jennifer Hoelzer, said in a phone interview. “And for the president to say that it is acceptable to interpret Geneva on a sliding scale means that he thinks that it is acceptable for other countries to do the same. Senator Wyden — and I believe any other reasonable individual — finds that argument appalling.“… [emphasis added]
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Like my Senator, I also find the notion that the ban on torture is selective appalling. Bush, every administrator who facilitated torture, and every legislator who voted in favor of torture, including McConJob, are all criminals.