McCarthy and Geneva

A reader points out what Andy McCarthy plainly fails to grasp with respect to baseline Geneva protections against coercion, abuse and torture:

It's fairly evident Mr. McCarthy isn't particularly conversant with Geneva. His sentence in his latest reply,

"But you do have to be able to ask them more than name, rank and serial number, which is all they'd be required to tell you if you gave them full-fledged Geneva rights"

is almost the exact opposite of what every Western army teaches its interrogators about the Conventions.

Here's the short version. The Canadian army that I'm most familiar with trains interrogators and tactical questioners, and yet has no quibble with Geneva. The American army professionals I have worked with are apparently of similar mind. That's because there is nothing in Geneva that prevents any military interrogator from interrogating any detainee, or asking any question of them that they would like. What Geneva says is that the detainee is not obliged to offer anything more than information sufficient to identify themselves to their interrogator. In practice, that means that the interrogator cannot then treat a person worse than other detainees simply because they refused to answer his other questions. On the other hand, nothing prevents the captor from treating the detainee better than the minimum requirements, should they cooperate. This is, ultimately, what normally gets the most reliable answers out of detainees, apparently: small favours and patient listeners.

The issue is complicated slightly if there is the prospect of criminal prosecution of the detainee (for war crimes, etc.), where the military's neglect of the "right to remain silent" and cease interrogations can lead to incriminating information they elicited from a detainee being inadmissible in court later on. But interrogators are not stopped by Geneva from posing their questions, even though they have to be aware of the risk to a future prosecutor's case in doing so. Both General Noriega and Saddam Hussein were both captured, pronounced to be PoWs under Geneva rules, treated accordingly ... and yet also interrogated.

And if you're not a POW as such, but still protected by Geneva baseline protections, you can be interrogated endlessly. That's how we got Zarqawi. The pro-Bush right seems to believe that the only choice is between throwing out Geneva protections and getting no intelligence. That's empirically wrong. What Geneva forbids for everyone, including those beneath POW status, is coercion. "Coercive interrogation" is an Orwellian term for torture. All coercion is torture - in varying degrees. The good news is that, after Abu Ghraib, the use of torture has been scaled back. But it has become formally legal, thanks to last year's Military Commissions Act, which gave the president lee-way to apply whatever torture techniques he thinks are appropriate. That law must be repealed, if this country's honor and reputation is to be restored. It really is as simple as that. And then we will have to go through a process of prosecutions of various war crimes. It won't be pretty; but there's no other way.