So randomly, lately, it has become apparent that our
has been attempting to coerce the United States
Congress to pass a law clarifying the text from the Geneva Convention
, Common Article III. Before I even begin my diatribe, I feel it is exceptionally important that people understand exactly what Common Article III of the Geneva Convention specifies. Therefore, I present the text, as follows:
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavor to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.
Okay, now that everyone's been enlightened, I shall begin.
The pretense of the proposed legislation is to clarify the text preceeding.
I'm certainly no lawyer, and perhaps in no position to render judgment on any sort of official or legal text, but everything, and I mean each and every word in Common Article III seems perfectly clear to me. The only clarification which could be applied, to my awareness, would be to define specifically what "mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," and "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" are. Murder is pretty explicit, so I don't see much room for clarification.
I suppose the clarification of the above items would appear pretty benign at first glance, but if you delve into the psychology of any such proposed legislation, you'll uncover some pretty horrifying considerations. Could it be, perhaps, that the current administration would like specific definitions of these malicious treatments so that they may push close to, but not cross the specific lines? Any time when legislation is passed which defines illegalities specifically, without any room for human interpretation, there will always be specific actions forgotten, loopholes left wide open. Suppose, for instance, that the legislation prohibits "near-asphyxiation, burning, cutting, abrasion, crushing, lashing, striking and freezing", without a statement such as "and other physical or emotional trauma", one might forget to explicitly, specifically prohibit such things as permitting dogs to bite the prisoners, pulling hair, and forcing the prisoners to stay for extended periods of time in their own feces. All things which the vast majority of people would consider "mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture."
If you write, on the other hand, a list of permissible actions, and a list of required basic needs to be met, one might see the requirement that "medications necessary to sustain the physical well-being of inmates in prison camps must be administered in proper dosages at proper intervals" or something of that nature. Would the necessity to provide drugs which were necessary for the mental well-being of inmates be so apparent to the bill's author?
How long, too, would it take for legislation to be passed to include or exclude specific treatment in the event that a grossly negligent error was made? How many tens of thousands of people might be abused before this legislation makes its way through the ever-so-deliberate halls of Congress? Would the gross negligence ever become apparent, or would the military officials manage to keep horribly abusive treatment from the eyes of people empowered to change the treatment? Soldiers refusing to engage at command in activities so potentially unethical, yet oh-so-technically legal could be faced with disciplinary action or court-martial.
Finally, exactly where do we feel we have the right to believe that a law passed in our legislation should supercede internationally legislated rules which we have signed treaties to uphold?
In conclusion, I believe that the Geneva Convention is as specific as needs be in Common Article III, without being bound by necessarily objective criteria. The impossibility of believing that it can be improved upon by removing the subjective assessment of behaviors and actions simply astounds me. The biggest question, at least in my mind, is quite simple:
Just how benign is the suggestion that we need to be more specific?