April 09, 2007

Others who don't get Geneva

While I'm talking about people who don't get Geneva, one must include NRO's Andy McCarthy, who claims to be a lawyer, of some description.

His sentence in his latest reply to Andy Sullivan, "But you do have to be able to ask them [detainees] 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.

Long version: A fairly complete treatise on this question, from the ICRC, can be found here.

Short version: The Geneva Conventions do not prohibit military interrogation.

Slightly less short version: 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 any of his other questions. On the other hand, nothing prevents the captor from treating the detainee better than the minimum requirements, should they cooperate. Nothing prevents them from just listening, playing to their ego, their pride, etc. either. 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. As the article linked above points out, both Gen. Noriega and Saddam Hussein were both captured, pronounced to be PoWs under Geneva rules, treated (more or less) accordingly... and yet also interrogated.

UPDATE: Case in point.

Posted by BruceR at 12:02 PM

Sharkskin suits

Regardless of what else one might think of the treatment of British sailors by the Iranians recently, there was a clear (and unnecessary) Geneva violation by Iran in the clothing of the detainees in civilian clothing.

Article 18's pretty clear on this one. "All effects and articles of personal use, except arms, horses, military equipment and military documents shall remain in the possession of prisoners of war, likewise their metal helmets and gas masks and like articles issued for personal protection. Effects and articles used for their clothing or feeding shall likewise remain in their possession, even if such effects and articles belong to their regulation military equipment."

The Iranian captors had a clear international obligation to let the detainees retain their uniforms: they stripped them immediately upon capture. The British servicepeople involved had an equally clear obligation to resist them being taken away from them, or at least not to smile while wearing other clothing, an obligation which seems to have been entirely missed by recent commenters.

What we're seeing is Geneva blowback... the eroding of respect for Convention rights that began at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo is now affecting the affairs of nations, as well. The dead-letterization of those conventions is another one of those unfortunate developments of our times.

Posted by BruceR at 11:29 AM