Andrew Sullivan is beside himself:
The United States is a rogue nation that practices torture and detainee abuse and does not follow the most basic principles of the Geneva Conventions. It is inviolation of human rights agreements and the U.N. Convention against torture. It is legitimizing torture by every disgusting regime on the planet. This is a policy mandated by the president and his closest advisers. This is the signal being sent from the commander-in-chief to his troops: your enemy can be treated beyond the boundaries of what the U.S. has always abided by. When you next read of an atrocity of war-crime or victim of torture by the U.S., just keep in mind who made this possible.
What has precipitated this outpouring of outrage? The administration has come to the common sense conclusion that part 1c of article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was too vague and restrictive. Specifically, it forbids "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."
The administration has wisely decided to omit this provision from the military field manual because it leaves "humiliating and degrading treatment" undefined. It in effect prohibits everything from yelling at a detainee to questioning his courage to calling him names.
The L.A. Times article which triggered Sullivan's spasm of indignation says this:
Another defense official said that Article 3 prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" could be interpreted as banning well-honed interrogation techniques.
Many intelligence soldiers consider questioning the manhood of male prisoners to be an effective and humane technique. Suggesting to a suspected insurgent that he is "not man enough" to have set an improvised explosive device sometimes elicits a full description of how they emplaced the bomb, soldiers say.
The Pentagon worries that if Article 3 were incorporated in the directive, detainees could use it to argue in U.S. courts that such techniques violate their personal dignity.
"Who is to say what is humiliating for Sheikh Abdullah or Sheikh Muhammad?" the second official asked. "If you punch the buttons of a Muslim male, are you at odds with the Geneva Convention?"
Military officials also worry that following Article 3 could force them to end the practice of segregating prisoners. The military says that there is nothing inhumane about putting detainees in solitary confinement, and that it allows inmates to be questioned without coordinating their stories with others.
Human rights groups have their doubts, saying that isolating people for months at a time leads to mental breakdowns.
"Sometimes these things sound benign, but there is a reason they have been prohibited," said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director for Amnesty International. "When you talk about putting people in isolation for eight months, 14 months, it leads to mental degradation."
[Professor]Jinks, of the University of Texas, contends that Article 3 does not prohibit some of the things the military says it wants to do. "If the practice is humane, there is nothing to worry about," he said.
But how does Professor Jinks define humane? If isolating prisoners is inhumane, what isn't? Serving them institutional food? Denying them access to al-Jazeera? Certainly it could be argued that imprisoning a detainee in the first place is degrading and inhumane and there are no doubt a legion of lawyers out there waiting for the opportunity to make that argument in court.
The administration did the right thing to reject this provision, and Andrew Sullivan's reaction is just silly hyperventilating.