Good News/Bad News for U.S. Detainees

By Mark Trodden | July 11, 2006 3:26 pm

From the BBC, it seems that there’s some good news for detainees of the U.S. military (and by association, for those of us who would like to live in a civilized country).

All US military detainees, including those at Guantanamo Bay, are to be treated in line with the minimum standards of the Geneva Conventions.

The White House announced the shift in policy almost two weeks after the US Supreme Court ruled that the conventions applied to detainees.


The Pentagon outlined the new standards to the military in a 7 July memo.

The directive says all military detainees are entitled to humane treatment and to certain basic legal standards when they come to trial, as required by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

How wonderful! All it took was a ruling by the highest court in the land for the Bush administration to understand that it is a good idea to follow international law if you expect others to do so.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that the poor CIA better brace itself for a much heavier workload

The new Pentagon policy applies only to detainees being held by the military, and not to those in CIA custody, such as alleged mastermind of the 11 September attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Rights, Politics
  • Eclectic Floridian

    I would love to be thankful that our Incompetent-In-Chief has seen fit to abide by treaties we have signed, and, of course, our own Constitution.

    But, I continue to have a nagging doubt.

    He has a tendency to “give-in” when pressure is applied. The problem is, he only does that after he’s found a new quasi-legal dodge that still gives him his way. Time will tell.

    “Trust the Americans to do the right thing … after they have tried everything else.”
    -Winston Churchill

  • Spatulated

    why is it so damn hard to do whats right?

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Given that G.W.’s word isn’t worth much, I’m going to wait and see. Already there are troubling signs in these passages from the story on

    Snow insisted that all U.S. detainees have been treated humanely. Still, he said, “We want to get it right.”

    “It’s not really a reversal of policy,” Snow asserted, calling the Supreme Court decision “complex.”

    Under questioning from the committee, Daniel Dell’Orto, principal deputy general counsel at the Pentagon, said he believes the current treatment of detainees — as well as the existing tribunal process — already complies with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

    “The memo that went out, it doesn’t indicate a shift in policy,” he said. “It just announces the decision of the court.”

    “The military commission set up does provide a right to counsel, a trained military defense counsel and the right to private counsel of the detainee’s choice,” Dell’Orto said. “We see no reason to change that in legislation.”

    Now we are going to follow the Geneva Conventions…just like we always have. I don’t find that very comforting.


  • Malo Juevo

    While I am in favor of affording these detainees the rights outlined under the Geneva Conventions–for moral reasons–I am sick of hearing claims that these people are actually entitled to such protections according to “international law.” The terms of the Geneva Conventions apply only to the treatment of uniformed troops in the armies of signatories. During the Second World War, allied lawyers examined the rules carefully and determined that, since Japan was not a signatory to any of the Conventions, Japanese troops could be legally shot even when they were in captivity.

  • fh

    Malo Juevo, you are wrong. Common article 3 of the Geneva conventions covers them as, as opposed to the case of japanese soldiers in WWII, this is not a fight between nations, hence not inter-national in the meaning of the word as used in the convention. Thus for example in a civil war the convention still applies.

    This is the relevant part of the 4th convention as the US has signed it:

    (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, colour, 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.

  • poly_math


    The CIA- and the NSA, for that matter – are not part of the military. So a Pentagon (DoD) policy would not apply to them.

    That being the case, you could wonder why it was necessary to state that so explicitly. Well, the bottom line is that insofar as the DoD would be concerned, it wouldn’t be. But newspaper articles sometimes belabor the obvious.

    Actually, more important than any of these legalistic concerns is the White House (not DoD) dogged insistence that this represents no real change in policy. Of course, the DoD knows better which is why they had to issue the policy memo. The White House stetements are just spin.

  • Elliot

    There is a very simple self serving reason to abide by the rules. It protects OUR soldiers as well. If we don’t follow the rules it’s going to be pretty difficult to insist that others do when they’ve captured U. S. forces. So if you are “truly interested” in the well being of American troops you should insist we treat our captives/prisoners humanely.

    (this is of course over and above the simple “its the right thing to do”)

  • Arun

    This purports to be the story of one of those animals:

  • Amara

    Comments like Jeff’s #7 are one of the reasons that the US has the poor reputation it has in the eyes of the rest of the world.

  • Mark


    The CIA- and the NSA, for that matter – are not part of the military. So a Pentagon (DoD) policy would not apply to them.

    That being the case, you could wonder why it was necessary to state that so explicitly. Well, the bottom line is that insofar as the DoD would be concerned, it wouldn’t be. But newspaper articles sometimes belabor the obvious.

    But this is the point. Yes, it is clear it doesn’t apply to the CIA. But I don’t think the BBC was belaboring the obvious. I think they were hinting that one might make the suggestion that I did in the post – namely that if the Bush administration wanted to continue its human rights abuses, then it could just switch to letting the CIA carry out all of them and evade the ruling that way.

  • Elliot


    Jeff’s comments are inconsequential. It is American actions like invading countries for delusional imperialistic goals as well as a “do as I say not as I do” level of behavioral hypocrisy that generates the negative image. If all we had to worry about were trolls we’d be have a much better image.

    Of course the current corrupt regime here doesn’t help matters.

  • Jud

    If Jeff’s criterion is dealing swiftly and effectively with these “animals,” then he can’t be happy. Several years on, and the record at Gitmo is a bunch of folks cleared completely – e.g., verified cases of mistaken identity – or identified as harmless enough to release, and *not one* successful prosecution.

  • Amara

    Elliot: I agree it is the _actions_ of the US federal government that is most relevant. However, Jeff’s comments are consequential in the sense that since the elections, it is much harder for the people outside of the US to separate the US federal government from the American people. Comments like his look (to me and others on the other side of the Atlantic) like the ultimate in ignorance or arrogance (not sure which). I already put away my US passport and don’t use it unless absolutely necessary because of the problems it causes me. Fortunately I have dual citizenship with another country that is small, friendly and benign.

  • Elliot


    These are the people who led us into Iraq.

    If this isn’t blatant imperialism … well…

    These is the intellectual underpinning of the entire enterprise with inordinate influence in the current U. S. regime.

    Amara, I do not think the majority of Americans believe that we should have just killed people in Afghanistan randomly without any evidence that they were hostile. Jeff obviously listens to too many right wing radio nutjobs for this own good.

  • Spatulated

    Oh and Jeff, thing is we don’t know that they are animals (I assume you mean terrorists out to kill Americans and others). See the thing is we aren’t even giving them a fair trial so they could be anything or anyone. but I guess your right, they sure to look Arabic enough, and dirty too! Must be terrorist.

  • Elliot

    PNAC Alumni,

    Feith, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Abrams, Bolton….

    Jeff you make my point better than I could do. The ultimate fallback of the neocon right is to call people critical of American policy “self-haters” and invite them (us) to leave. I would say that being critical of American policy is 1) called free speech 2) a sign of respect for American traditions and ideals instead of what the world is seeing from the current regime.

    When you refer to people as “animals”, be prepared to deal with the response from those of us who think they are actually human beings and deserved to be treated as such.

  • Amara

    Jeff: I left the US 8 years ago, so I can’t honestly say I know what the Left or Right is today. Sorry.

  • Belizean


    If a cult of Aztecs seized power in Mexico, resumed the practice of mass human sacrifice, and the United States invaded to stop it, Elliot would be the first guy to condemn America for its evil imperialism.

    Just use the search function on this site to see what I mean. He suffers from a severe case of anti-Americanism undoubtedly aggravated by BDS.

  • Elliot

    Belizean wrote:

    “If a cult of Aztecs seized power in Mexico, resumed the practice of mass human sacrifice, and the United States invaded to stop it, Elliot would be the first guy to condemn America for its evil imperialism.”

    and if our invasion accidently killed thousands of the very people we allegedly were protecting, by collateral damage he’d say be the first to say “Oh well….”

  • Dan

    What about if the cult of aztecs was democratically elected in Mexico?

  • Amara

    It is just a little meddling, right?

  • Mark

    Jeff, you’re right, people have gone off at you here. But it is hard to expect a considered response when your opening line was

    Since many of you seem so fond of releasing these animals from Gitmo, why don’t any of you volunteer your home for them?

    This misses the point entirely, as I’m sure you realize.

    When you follow with

    So, those of you who dislike America and what we stand for, you are free to leave.

    you also miss the point. There are many in this country who like “what America stands for” and feel that those values are being systematically dismantled by the current administration. To point this out is in no way anti-American, and to dismiss these concerns with a comment that has the flavor of “now the President has made this decision, you can like it or leave, but either way just shut up” is to invite a not-too-serious discourse.

  • Arun

    Here is the deal:

    You all would have thought that the following is a local problem in South Asia, that was resolved by the creation of India and Pakistan.

    It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religious in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.”

    But you can replace Hindus in the above by “Englishmen” and then read Daniel Pipes:

    The “two nation” theory is really a “two incompatible worlds” theory.

    Now, India is an experiment in the idea that the two-nation theory as described by Muhammad Ali Jinnah is wrong. It has one-third of the Muslims in South Asia (one-third in Pakistan, and one-third in Bangladesh, former East Pakistan). The United States is similarly predicated that a common citizenship is possible regardless of religion. Acts of terrorism are an assertion of the two-nation theory. Our treatment of people like animals explicitly concedes the case that the two nation theory is right, and that we must endeavor to separate and be in perpetual war about our boundaries.

    It would be preferable to defeat terrorism without any concession to the two nation theory.

  • Elliot


    Thank you for pointing out in a more considered tone, the point I was trying to make but failed to articulate as well as you have.


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About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.


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