Last week, I couldn’t figure out why the issue of torture
was consistently being presented in the media. I have
been busy, writing about other things, and preparing to
go to graduate school.
I turned to my colleague, Matthew Birkhold and was like
“Dude, why are they tripping of the torture documents
and the pictures, I don’t recall torture being
made illegal. Is it in the Constitution?”
He then turned to me, and stared for a minute.
Then I said, “Oh, snap, the Geneva Conventions!”
You see, none of the articles I read mentioned
The Geneva Convention, so I was unsure as
to scope of the implications of a charge of torture. In
the article What is a War Crime?, Tarik Kafala describes
the history and historical context of War Crimes. He writes,
The concept of war crimes is a recent one. Before World War II, it was generally accepted that the horrors of war were in the nature of war.
But during World War II the murder of several million people – mainly Jews- by Nazi Germany, and the mistreatment of both civilians and prisoners of war by the Japanese, prompted the Allied powers to prosecute the people they believed to be the perpetrators of these crimes.
The Nuremberg trials in 1945 and 1946 led to 12 Nazi leaders being executed.
A similar process started in Tokyo in 1948. Seven Japanese commanders were hanged, though the Allies decided not to put Emperor Hirohito in the dock.
These trials were essentially the precedents for the cases that the modern-day tribunal in The Hague hears.
In addition, individual governments, feeling that justice has not been done, have acted on their own initiative.
…Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: “Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including… wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, …taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
To cover his behind, President Bush provided retroactive
immunity for himself and his entire administration for
war crimes. What an amazing move in light of the information
that is being revealed.
I then began to put the pieces to together.
The alleged terrorist have to be housed outside of American
soil, less they be granted due process and a a trial within the
United States court system. So long as they are housed in
unknown prisons around the world, they will not be charged
and there is no incentive to proceed with due process and give
them their day in court.
President Obama made a campaign promise to close
Guantanamo, however, Congress is saying, no can do,
unless he has a plan.
While writing this, the just reported that President Obama
has decided to transfer Ahmed Ghailani to New York and
try him in civil court. The main issue is that some members
of the Senate don’t want alleged terrorist’s housed in
American prisons. The fear seems to be rational and I
am unsure as to why.
Andrew Sullivan (aka Mr. Cantankerous and awesome) of
The Atlantic.com, has eloquently summed up President
Obama’s reversal on releasing the torture photos. Sullivan writes,
Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’
war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute
them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing
evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and
the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt
The rationale for the suppression is fatuous:
“their release would endanger the troops.”
You mean releasing evidence of war crimes would
render US soldiers more vulnerable to attack? How?
This IS a Democracy. There is due process.
I was sort of excited to write this piece, not because of
the topic, but because so many elements that I have been
thinking about this year have coalesced in this issue.
For instance, back in December, Thaddeus Clark sent
me an Esquire article, The Falling Man, by Tom Junod,
about photos of taken of folks who jumped out of the
World Trade Center. Thaddeus and I started having a
conversation on Twitter about Camus, whom I was
reading a lot
of at the time.
Camus was notoriously anti-death penalty. In his era, folks
decapitated using a guillotine. Camus’s rationale was
that in order for the death penalty to be exemplary and
actually discourage other people from
committing crimes, then the heads of the the decapitated
folks should be displayed for the entire town to see.
Yes. Displayed. Camus was no joke. He was a big believer
in the transparency of death, if the purpose of the death was
deter folks from committing future crimes or vicious acts.
In the essay, Reflections on the Guillotine, Camus
writes about the death penalty and watching his
father return home and throwing up, after witnessing
a public execution. He writes,
When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen, it is suppose to
protect, how can anyone mistaken that it is likely, as it
out to be, to bring peace and order into the community.
….People write about capital punishment as if they are a whisper… But when silence or tricks of language contributes to the maintaining abuse that must be reformed or a suffering that can be relieved, then there is no solution but to speak out and show the obscenity hidden under the verbal cloak
In the article, Falling Man, Tom Junod discusses a
comment left on the website, Here is New York, which
speaks to the discomfort that we have with death and
photos of dead bodies. Junod writes,
.….on the Here Is New York Website, a visitor offers this commentary: “This image is what made me glad for censuring [sic] in the endless pursuant media coverage.” More and more, the jumpers — and their images — were relegated to the Internet underbelly, where they became the provenance of the shock sites that also traffic in the autopsy photos of Nicole Brown Simpson and the videotape of Daniel Pearl’s execution, and where it is impossible to look at them without attendant feelings of shame and guilt. In a nation of voyeurs, the desire to face the most disturbing aspects of our most disturbing day was somehow ascribed to voyeurism, as though the jumpers’ experience, instead of being central to the horror, was tangential to it, a sideshow best forgotten.
American’s are interesting. We enjoy death as entertainment
but are incapable of being a witness to the actual death’s in
the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, death committed in our name.
If those photographs are released, the entire tone and scope
and conversation around the Iraq and Afghanistan war’s will change.
The men and woman (are their any women in Guantanamo)
who are being held in Guantanamo will be seen as both
human beings and as alleged terrorists. If they are tried
and found guilty of these awful acts, then they need to be
The American men and women, the American troops, who
have died will go from being abstract entities, in the minds
of the mainstream public, to human beings who have
died in our name.
We are all human beings.
We all have a mother.
We have all been children.
Someone changed all of our diapers.
The same way the photos of the My Lai Massacre
and of Kim Phuc significantly changed public opinion on
the Vietman war, the release of the torture photos will
change how we feel and hopefully inform our choices
around the Iraq and Afghanistan
It is time to release the photos.
Should the president release the photo’s?
What kind of country has one set of rules for its
citizens and another for its prisoners?
Did President Bush plan on keeping the detainees
there forever? It seems like it, as there was no plan
to deal with them via release?
What kind of Democracy holds alleged criminals