Human Rights First Reminds General Dempsey that Geneva Conventions Still in Place

I had meant to link to and comment on the Danger Room piece on the group of officers teaching “total war” against Islam at the Joint Staff War College.

For the better part of the last decade, a small cabal of self-anointed counterterrorism experts has been working its way through the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement communities, trying to convince whoever it could that America’s real terrorist enemy wasn’t al-Qaida — but the Islamic faith itself. In his course, Dooley brought in these anti-Muslim demagogues as guest lecturers. And he took their argument to its final, ugly conclusion.

“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation (.pdf), which concluded with a suggested manifesto to America’s enemies. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

If I had, though, I would have said largely what Human Rights First wrote in a letter to General Martin Dempsey emphasizing that the disdain for the Geneva Convention must get as much attention as the Islamophobia exhibited in the training materials.

Publicity surrounding this incident has rightly centered on the discriminatory nature of the materials. But we are equally distressed by an aspect that has received less attention: the cavalier and ignorant dismissal of the principles and rules of distinction and proportionality reflected in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. In a nation committed to equality under the rule of law, this aspect of the materials is as disturbing as their anti-Islamic nature. Military personnel are supposed to be well trained in the applicability of the law of armed conflict, even if the military cannot train away their personal prejudices. The military must also reinforce the point that law trumps any personal religious beliefs of members of the military.

President Bush made clear his understanding that the United States was not at war with Islam, but rather with violent extremists. Unfortunately, we are still living with the toxic legacy of his determination that the Geneva Conventions are an irrelevant nuisance.

We are still trying to undo all the damage Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions did. But up until a few months ago, top officers were still being taught the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to our current wars against Muslims. (I really wonder whether any of these instructors was involved in Falluja?)

And until HRF sent this letter, I really hadn’t seen anyone talking about how problematic it was that the military was still teaching that Bush’s rules remained in effect.

13 replies
  1. chetnolian says:

    Ever since the USA refused to be party to the International Criminal Court there have been concerns about US exceptionalism. Then the exclusion seemed theoretical because no US citizen would ever do anything illegal or contrary to International Laws would they?

    Then we had Guantanamo. Then we had waterboarding. It is sad to see a great nation and bastion of the rule of law come to this.

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    Re the Geneva Conventions… Is it not true that detainees held by the US, if thought to be associated with AQ or the Taliban or “associated” forces, are denied Geneva protections as unprivileged combatants? Why does the Army Field Manual separate out such detainees in terms of protections from certain techniques from all other detainees or prisoners?

    I have yet to see any determination on paper that even if the detainees are covered as civilians under Geneva, and not POWs, that the Army Field Manual and its Appendix M are compliant with Common Article 3. You have covered this material yourself. Are you aware of any such written determination? Under Bush, it appeared one needed to have one (as half-assed as they were), but under Obama… I wonder.

  3. der says:

    The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh alleged in a speech in Qatar that key branches of the U.S. military are being led by Christian fundamentalist “crusaders” who are determined to “turn mosques into cathedrals.”

    Air Force Academy: In 2005, allegations surfaced that some Evangelical Christian cadets and staff were effectively engaging in religious proselytizing at the Academy…. Evidence discovered during the investigation included antisemitic remarks, official sponsorship of a showing of the film The Passion of the Christ and a locker room banner that said academy athletes played for “Team Jesus.”

    A 2010 survey found that 41 percent of academy cadets who identified themselves as non-Christian reported they were subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing at least once or twice last year at the school.

    Retired JSOC/Delta Force commander Jerry Boykin:

    Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin told another audience, “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

    “We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this,” Boykin said last year.

    This should not be a surprise, the more liberal and progressive press has been reporting on the influence of the christian right for decades while the main stream press has ignored it.

  4. OL says:

    Retired JSOC/Delta Force commander Jerry Boykin:
    …. “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

    “We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this,” Boykin said last year.”

    Well, that apocalyptic. patri-religiocentric identity is exactly what makes Romney such a dire threat to everybody in the world. They deeply believe the time is nigh, so to speak. But none more so than Mormons.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As if the “war” on “terror” were not, in part, a rhetorical (and physical) war against Islam itself, a resuscitation in the minds of the christianist faithful that their Crusades, like the War of Northern Aggression, were not yet over.

    This movement by fundamentalist war mongers and their more cynical associates, whose power depends on the existence of permanent war, would be familiar to the proponents of the original crusades, including more than one pope. It also attempts, in good Cheneyite fashion, to undo three generations of work since the Great War to make war less frequent, less vicious, and less accountability free.

  6. Richard S says:

    Sounds distincly like this cabal has its eye on a ‘American Exception’ for genocide – guess it’s our turn now.

  7. Peterr says:

    Reading the slide you’ve got in that image, bullet point #2 seems to put the good colonel and the general who protected him on the wrong side of his oath to defend the constitution.

    The US remains bound to the Geneva Conventions until such time as the Congress abrogates the treaty it ratified — regardless of what other nations or non-nations may decide to do relative to them. Officers of the US military cannot of their own volition declare a treaty to be null and void.

    For officers of the US military to presume that the GCs are “no longer relevant” is, in the eyes of this non-lawyer and non-military person, grounds for immediate discharge. When those same officers teach other officers the same thing in the course of their official duties as instructors, this makes me want to make those discharges as punitive as possible.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @Peterr: Nice point. That oath to protect us against all enemies, foreign and domestic, seems to make their own behavior something they should be protecting us against. Practicing law without a license is usually seriously frowned upon, as is actively engaging in partisan politics.

    These advocates of “total war” are telling their cohort that a group of laws they find inconvenient and unprofitable – which would limit the discretion of their president to wage war without hindrance or accountability – are quaint (as if they were old English plumbing and sports cars), and can be ignored. That may be politically popular in certain clubs and smoking lounges. It is also dangerous and eye-poppingly unprofessional.

  9. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Peterr:This, I think, is the section of the law that bothers me. Taken from the MCA 2006, I do not believe it was changed in the 2009 “reform”. Bold added for emphasis.

    22 (A) As provided by the Constitution and by
    23 this section, the President has the authority for
    24 the United States to interpret the meaning and
    25 application of the Geneva Conventions
    and to
    26 promulgate higher standards and administrative†
    S 3930 ES
    1 regulations for violations of treaty obligations
    2 which are not grave breaches of the Geneva
    3 Conventions.
    4 (B) The President shall issue interpreta-
    5 tions described by subparagraph (A) by Execu-
    6 tive Order published in the Federal Register.
    7 (C) Any Executive Order published under
    8 this paragraph shall be authoritative (except as
    9 to grave breaches of common Article 3) as a
    10 matter of United States law, in the same man-
    11 ner as other administrative regulations.
    12 (D) Nothing in this section shall be con-
    13 strued to affect the constitutional functions and
    14 responsibilities of Congress and the judicial
    15 branch of the United States

    Also, the statute notes that “[n]o foreign or international source of law shall supply a basis for a rule of decision in the courts of the United States in interpreting the prohibitions enumerated in subsection (d) of such section 2441.”

    So, no one has answered my question here. Is the “interpretation by the President” aspect of following Geneva the law, or is it not? If it is, then I think we have our answer to much that is wrong with the status of Geneva protections and actions of the US.

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Executive Order 13440 by Bush, “Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3
    as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency” (7/20/07), addresses the point I made above.


    But with the supposed closure of the CIA detention program, this became a moot point. Obama, of course, released his own Exec Order in Jan 09, Executive Order 13492. In it, he brought up the issue of adherence to Geneva:

    “Sec. 6. Humane Standards of Confinement. No individual currently detained at Guantanamo shall be held in the custody or under the effective control of any officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government, or at a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States, except in conformity with all applicable laws governing the conditions of such confinement, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The Secretary of Defense shall immediately undertake a review of the conditions of detention at Guantanamo to ensure full compliance with this directive. Such review shall be completed within 30 days and any necessary corrections shall be implemented immediately thereafter.

    From what I can see, “full compliance” still remains something that is decided by the Administration, and not any outside agency, international or not.

    This is of course ridiculous, as it asks the potential abusers to police themselves. Nothing appears to have been changed from the “Interpretation by the President”. The “applicable law” Obama refers to is his own ability to interpret that law. He is simply not as blatant as Bush, and gives lip service to Common Article 3. The fact that the treatment is not CA3 compliant by any stretch of the imagination — something even Bradbury (in his memorandum on Appendix M) and Bush realized, hence the need to place these prisoners beyond Geneva protections — is merely an inconvenient fact in the era of Obama. Something left for cranks like me to scream into the wind at.

  11. thatvisionthing says:

    “Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

    Just wanted to stare at that for a bit.

  12. thatvisionthing says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    Also, the statute notes that “[n]o foreign or international source of law shall supply a basis for a rule of decision in the courts of the United States in interpreting the prohibitions enumerated in subsection (d) of such section 2441.”

    Does that include Oz?

  13. thatvisionthing says:

    “Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

    I am still staring at that.

    Hall of mirrors.

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