Byron is dissatisfied with my reply to his original e-mail taking me to task for my criticism of Andrew Sullivan (here). He argues (see Feedback Page) that I failed to give a satisfactory explanation for criticizing Sullivan's denigration of the administration for opting not to include Article 3:1c of the Geneva Conventions in the Army Field Manual and concludes that I owe Sullivan an apology.
I'd like to explain why I think no apology is needed.
Byron states that:
Sullivan shows that we have violated the Geneva conventions and go against international law, a fact that is commonly accepted. Do you disagree? It is this that makes us rogue, not some odd interpretation you give to his words, suggesting that he is opposed to hurting the feelings of killers.
This is somewhat misleading. Sullivan has written strongly against the alleged use of torture in the past, to be sure, but in the post to which I responded in Overdoing the Outrage he was condemning the administration specifically for its refusal to include Article 3 part 1c in the Army Field Manual. It is that particular complaint of Sullivan's I criticized, and Byron is inadvertantly changing the subject when he shifts the discussion to the broader question of torture.
He changes the subject again when he says:
But your "straw man" argument and your caricature of Mr. Sullivan's views are way off base. Mr. Sullivan did not say we ought not "question the courage of detainees" (what reasonable court could call that torture?).
But it is not torture, exactly, that is at issue in 3:1c. The Article states: ....the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons....Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.
If Byron means to ask "what reasonable court could call questioning one's courage humiliating or degrading treatment" the best answer, perhaps, is to ask him whether he would not himself find it humiliating or degrading to have his courage or manhood challenged. Most people would, especially in the presence of others and especially, for a Muslim, by a female interrogator. But don't take my word for it. The concern was raised in the L.A. Times article which initially triggered Sullivan's outrage.
Byron goes on to write that:
Mr. Sullivan simply nowhere suggests, as you put words in his mouth, that we have to treat POW's as "visiting dignitaries" or that we dare not incarcerate captured terrorists. If this possibility is why Mr. Bush scuttled the law on this, it seems pretty thin logic to me. Be that as it may, Mr. Sullivan surely was not operating with these concerns in mind: he clearly was opposing torture.
This paragraph is confusing. I didn't suggest that Sullivan himself actually said any of this, as a fair reading of my post will show. My point was that his insistence that we abide by 3:1c would lead to these kinds of absurd restrictions on how detainees can be treated, whether Sullivan thinks so or not.
Had he said what you said he said I suppose it would be right to call him silly. I simply think it is outlandish of you to suggest that his piece had anything to do with your peeve.
The only thing I can say to this is that anyone who doubts that it was the decision to drop Article 3:1c from the Army Field Manual that precipitated Andrew's diatribe against the administration should go to his blog and read the post for himself.
You slander him by implying Mr. Sullivan thinks we ought not incarcerate terrorists. He has said no such thing. If he did it would be stupid.
Of course I didn't say that Sullivan thinks this, and I don't know why Byron would accuse me of having done so. What I suggested was that the logic of his position leads to that kind of an absurdity. I'm glad Byron thinks that anything which leads to the conclusion that incarceration should be prohibited is stupid, because that's exactly what the vagueness and ambiguity of 3:1c would, or could, result in.
At first glance it would seem that the proscription of humiliating and degrading treatment is a prohibition that every nation, including ours, should respect. But in fact it's meaningless and dangerously restrictive. It is little more than a feel-good clause that allows the signatories to present themselves to the world as humane when in fact, if taken seriously, it's virtually impossible to abide by.
What determines whether an act is humiliating or degrading is more the individual's reaction to the act than the act itself. Most people, but not all, would feel humiliated if yelled at or insulted. Many, but not all, Muslims would feel humiliated if placed in a subordinate position to a woman. If we are to take the Geneva article seriously, which both Byron and Andrew Sullivan insist that we do, then we should never allow a Muslim detainee to be interrogated by a woman if he would find that humiliating. I, and I presume Byron, would find prison both humiliating and degrading. Suppose the Muslim jihadis do as well. If so, 3:1c would, if strictly followed, forbid us from incarcerating terrorists. In other words, the sensibilities of the prisoner determine what measures we can take against him. I submit that this is an absurd position to put ourselves in.
Byron suggests that I exaggerate when I claim that 3:1c would effectively proscribe incarceration, but how could it not? Does he think some forms of humiliation, like imprisonment, are acceptable to use against detainees but others are not? If so, how are we to choose between them? Who decides what's humiliating for a detainee and what isn't? The interrogator? The secretary of defense? The detainee? Byron offers no answer. He seems, rather, to conflate humiliation and torture and insists simply that we should not employ torture and, by extension, humiliation.
Even if the military would arbitrarily be permitted to degrade terrorists by confining them to a cell and depriving them of their freedom, there are lots of things they would not be allowed to get away with, and the L.A. Times article that started this discussion mentions a few of these (shouting at prisoners, questioning their manhood, and long-term solitary confinement, for example). There are numerous others: using deception to get information, giving the prisoner Western food, shackling - in short, anything the prisoner found demeaning would be proscribed by a serious reading of 3:1c.
If I am wrong about this then I welcome someone explaining to me my error because I don't see how the absurdities mentioned above can be avoided if 3:1c is to be taken literally, and if it's not to be taken literally then how can it be binding at all?
Meanwhile, in lieu of some meaningful definitions as to what constitutes humiliating and degrading treatment, adherence to 3:1c places needless restrictions on our military authorities. Interrogators and police, afraid of crossing some invisible line that could get them hauled before a war crimes tribunal, will tend to do as little as possible to elicit life-saving information from terrorist prisoners. In an environment where our kids' lives are at constant risk at the hands of those who will stop at nothing to kill them, it would be irresponsible to insist that our interrogators and police adhere to such vague guidance as 3:1c offers.
Until someone shows me how this is mistaken I will continue to maintain that it is silly for Andrew Sullivan, or anyone else, to condemn the administration for omitting this proscription from the Army Field Manual.