Un-Conventional Thinking: The Pentagon Honors Torture Awareness Month

This month is Torture Awareness Month, as Jonathan Schwarz usefully reminds us here. (Schwarz, by the way, has been absolutely ablaze with sardonic fire lately. His takedown of Glenn Reynold's idiotic justification for future civil war in America is an unsurpassed gem of the blogging art. Read it, and experience that unique state induced by a dose of Schwarzprose: hilarious high dudgeon.)

Naturally, the Pentagon has marked this worthy occasion by – what else?
– eviscerating international and American law in its new Field Manual for interrogation techniques. You'll recall this revision was launched with much fanfare, ostensibly to introduce more stringent guidelines for handling detainees to make sure that we have no more "incidents" of "alleged abuse" like that little spot of bad-apple, frat-boy hazing at Abu Ghraib way back when.

But somehow, when it came to actually writing up these "moderations," the legal eagles in Rumsfeld's shop left out "a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans 'humiliating and degrading treatment' … a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards," the Los Angeles Times reports. (Gregory Djerejian has a good take on the story here.)

In fact, what the latest draft of this handy-dandy document does is official
ly codify Bush's earlier evisceration of the Geneva Convention, when, under the wise tutelage of Alberto Gonzales, Bush signed a secret directive in 2002 "suspending" parts of the Convention for all the Terror War captives in his concentration camps, detention centers, rendition pits and secret prisons. As numerous military, legal and human rights experts agree, Bush's action effectively dissolved the Convention as a binding, universal protection for anyone captured in a conflict, including American troops, replacing it with….well, nothing, really – except maybe the law of the jungle.

As the Times reports: "The overall thinking," said the participant familiar with the defense debate, "is that they need the flexibility to apply cruel techniques if military necessity requires it."

So there you have it: we're against torture – except when we need it. We're also against invading countries that haven't attacked us, slaughtering civilians by the tens of thousands, and splattering the guts of innocent children all over their family home – except, of course, when "military necessity requires it."

But just because "military necessity" – as defined solely by the Commander-in-Chief and his handlers, of course – is now the supreme value of the American state, the god in whose sign we conquer, that doesn't mean we don't have other values. Do we ever! Man alive, we got nothing but values, and morals and standards and what you call 'em -- ethics -- all them things, right out the wazoo. In fact, even as we speak, a gaggle of military ethicists are winging their way to Iraq to reinvigorate the already high standards that govern every interaction between liberator and liberatee in that fortunate land. They're going to make the ethical pie higher, in other words.

How high? Glad you asked. It just so happens that our correspondent, poet/author Gary Holthaus of Dissenter's Notebook, has procured a copy of the Pentagon's new, post-Haditha rules of engagement and has kindly sent them our way. Below then are a few excerpts from his Military Ethicists on the Loose!

Military experts in ethics and the honorable warrior tradition are now on tour in Iraq in order to educate our soldiers about such issues as murder and torture. Meanwhile back home, the military leaves the Geneva Convention article on detainees out of the new edition of the Army Manual. Must be because the folks who know ethics are out of town providing remedial ethics to soldiers overseas.

So here is Ethics One-Zero-One: the new Rules of Engagement.

1. Do not shoot unarmed babies three years of age and under. We understand your anger, but you must realize that it is bad publicity, and we simply cannot have it.

2. Before shooting unarmed children between the ages of four and seven, always check their birth certificates to be absolutely certain they are over three and you can prove it. If you cannot find the certificates, you may simply handcuff them to their dead parents instead. That should be sufficient to show them who has the power here, and teach them how real men use it. When they grow up they will be sure to follow your example and perhaps add a few elaborations of their own....

5. Always establish a perimeter around such sites and post signs indicating “No Relatives or Reporters Allowed” and “Cameras prohibited within 300 miles.” Confiscate all photos and videos taken by your buddies and destroy them immediately.

6. Always remember that some people may believe even the testimony of Iraqi ragheads – er, a -- civilians. After all, they’ve lied to us fewer times lately than the DOD. So make sure no possible witnesses can testify.

7. Never serve in the Army as a private, corporal or sergeant. In fact, always enter the service as a major or a general. Privates, corporals, sergeants, even lieutenants and captains, may be prosecuted for atrocities. To avoid such penalties, always be a high-ranking officer. Make that a condition of your enlistment. If possible -- to escape all accountability for anything and everything -- just be President.