Holding Patterns


Speaking of torture sessions, a February 2002 White House briefing by Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary at the time, laid out some of the administration’s early thinking on “detainees.”

“The national security team, as you know, has always said that these detainees should not be treated as prisoners of war,” Fleischer told the reporters, “because they don’t conform to the requirements of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention, which detailed what type of treatment would be given to people in accordance with P.O.W. standards. That’s a very easily understood legal doctrine of Article 4.

“For example, the detainees in Guantánamo did not wear uniforms. They’re not visibly identifiable. They don’t belong to a military hierarchy. All of those are prerequisites under Article 4 of the Geneva Convention, which will be required in order to determine if somebody is a P.O.W. There’s a broader issue about the important principles of the Geneva Convention, and the president’s belief in the Geneva Convention as an important governing doctrine. And you will hear more about it.”

One of the reporters then asked, “What do you lose if Taliban fighters are declared eligible under the full provisions of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention, versus the status that they enjoy right now?”

“Well, that’s not an issue under discussion,” Fleischer replied, “because the determination has already been made that neither the Taliban nor the Al Qaeda are prisoners of war. We’ve heard that repeatedly from Department of Defense, from this podium. So that’s not under discussion.”

Later in the briefing, a reporter asked, “Should the Taliban prisoners—however you want to characterize them, unlawful combatants, whatever—be given full provision under the Geneva Convention, what changes for them? Do they get stipends for cigarettes? Do they only have to give name, rank, and serial number? Will they be released when cessation of hostilities is officially declared? What changes if you fully apply the Geneva Convention to them?”

“One of the interesting issues of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention,” Fleischer replied, “deals with if you were to deem somebody as a prisoner of war, the United States government would be obligated to pay them a monthly stipend. The United States government would be obligated to give the Al Qaeda or the Taliban detainees, the Al Qaeda terrorists in Guantánamo musical instruments. Those would be obligations imposed upon a government under the prisoner of war aspect of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention. And that, as I mentioned, is a settled issue. There is no dispute about it. They are not, will not be considered prisoners of war, neither the Al Qaeda or the Taliban. That’s an example.”

The basic question here is, Who were the people being tortured in Iraq? Why were they being tortured? Were we trying to get them to identify hiding places of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction? Or were we trying to get them to admit to being Iraqi members of Al Qaeda? The WMD and the Al Qaeda connections, after all, are the crucial and so far unproven staples of Bush’s rationale for going to war. Or maybe we thought they could tell us where Saddam was hiding? Or Osama? Anyhow, why were we torturing these people after the war’s major military operations ended?