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Why Torturing “Prisoners Of War” Is So Wrong

By James Donahue

Throughout history, humans have not only lived in conflict with one another, they have succeeded in doing the most inhumane things imaginable to people they control.

Torture of other humans has become an art form, used for centuries for a variety of diabolical reasons, but mostly to inflict pain on persons held captive. Rarely, if ever, has torture been a successful means of forcing prisoners to reveal important military information. If the truth were known, in today’s armies, the grunt soldier in the field is usually kept in the dark, is only following orders and if captured, can provide almost no useful information to the enemy.

This, then, is a basic reason for not bothering to torture enemy combatants taken prisoner in battle. They just don’t know enough vital military information to make it worth the effort.

Yet human nature seems to drive us to committing unspeakable acts when we are caught up in ugly situations like open combat. Soldiers have been known to rape, pillage and even murder innocent civilians while moving through towns and villages. When enemy soldiers are captured or surrender, and are placed in military detention, the temptation to hurt, maim and kill appears to be strong. It has been a common practice for as long as records of wars have been kept.

After the recorded atrocities of World War II, an effort was made by world leaders to try to strive for a more civilized society. Meetings were held at Geneva, Switzerland where four international laws of war, or Geneva Conventions were drafted in 1949. Each participating nation, including the United States, ratified these international laws, which meant there was a general world-wide agreement to prohibit certain immoral acts even if we are degraded to go to war against one another.

The Third Geneva Convention prohibits the torture of prisoners of war, and the Fourth Convention protects detained civilians. Both laws call for humane treatment. Detainees may be questions but all forms of physical or mental “coercion” is prohibited. Women are to be protected from rape and any form of indecent assault.

While it is true that not all countries participated in the Geneva Convention, and the rules were broken during the many small wars that occurred since 1949, the world looked to the United States, now the most powerful of all the nations, to set a standard for its behavior.

Not only did President George W. Bush break a long established code of honor when he ordered our military to attack Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 without provocation, but it appears he and his staff were fully aware, sanctioned, and may even have ordered the torture of prisoners held at Ghraib Prison in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, Cuba.

Accounts of torture, sodomy and killing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, “stress and duress” techniques that included forced standing or kneeling for hours at Bagram, waterboarding, removal of beards and clothing and forced stress situations at Guantanamo were among the stories that have shocked the world since the Bush Administration took us to war.

During the debate about the use of torture techniques, lawyers for the Department of Defense have argued that since both the United States and Iraq were parties to the Geneva Conventions, the United States recognizes that these treaties are binding in the Iraq conflict. But the administration maintains that prisoners taken in Afghanistan do not qualify as prisoners of war under international law.

Not only is this a lame excuse for what was done, the argument lacks merit. Not only has the US violated the rules of the Geneva Conventions, but also various international laws that prohibit torture and mistreatment of prisoners in all circumstances, both during war and peacetime. These treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Torture of prisoners also is prohibited under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment and the U.N. Standard Minimum rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Within our own borders, torture is prohibited under the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 and a federal anti-torture statue enacted in 1994.

It seems that not only our founding fathers, but elected leaders have gone to great lengths since the day our nation was founded trying to assure to the world that we are a humane and peaceful people who not only seek to avoid military conflict, but when forced into it, will not resort to immoral acts when we capture prisoners of war.

This president has violated this trust and in doing so, he has opened the door for the soldiers of all other armies of the world to use unspeakable methods of torture on our own sons and daughters once captured in future warfare.

The name Bush will go down in infamy over such evil acts as this.