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Friday, July 16, 2004


From Reuter's comes this bit. The Pentagon is "overhauling" its prisoner policy. What does that mean, exactly? Let's see:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the creation of an office to oversee military detainee operations, the Pentagon said. Rumsfeld also required that reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross on U.S. military prisoner operations go directly to Pentagon leaders rather than staying with commanders in the field, the Pentagon said.

The moves follow revelations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad, investigations into deaths of prisoners held by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and questions over the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The new Office of Detainee Affairs, whose leader has not been named, will come under the control of the Pentagon's third-ranking civilian official, Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy.

Okay. Aside from ensuring that no pesky leaks will come from future ICRC reports on prisoner abuse at the hands of American soldiers (those will henceforth be delivered directly into the hands of "Pentagon leaders" now), what strikes me is under whose control this new Office of Detainees will fall.

Surely, in the wake of the ever widening abuse scandal, it will be someone who can be expected to stand up and put a stop to such abhorrent tactics committed in the name of "Freedom" and "Democracy." Surely.

Who was it then? Someone named Feith, was it? I'm sorry, did you mean Douglas Feith? Surely not this Douglas Jay Feith?

In the early 1980s, Feith was a young lawyer in the Reagan administration who gained fame in conservative national security circles for arguing against ratification of a proposed amendment to the Geneva Conventions that would treat members of national liberation movements, irregulars who wore no uniforms and sometimes used terrorist tactics, as prisoners of war.

Feith said that this policy would endanger civilians by removing the incentive for fighters to obey traditional laws of war: staying in the open so the opposing party will not target noncombatants. It would also grant terrorist groups the same status as armies, something Feith, a harsh critic of the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected. Two decades later, he returned to the Pentagon in the second Bush administration as its leading defense policy thinker.

Shortly after the Al Qaeda attacks, the Bush administration made a crucial decision exactly in line with Feith's doctrine: An Al Qaeda or Taliban fighter who was captured would be called an "enemy combatant" and would not enjoy POW protections.

The one and only Douglas Feith?

Feith's office was in charge of Iraq's military prisons, but that's not the only reason his name keeps turning up in newspaper reports about the scandal. It was Feith who devised the legal solution for getting around the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on physically or psychologically coercing prisoners of war into talking. As a Pentagon official in the 1980s, Feith had laid out the argument that terrorists didn't deserve protection under the Geneva Conventions. Once the war on terrorism started, all he had to do was implement it. And even more damning than his legal rule-making is Feith's reported reaction to complaints by military Judge Advocate General lawyers about the new, looser interrogation rules. "They said he had a dismissive, if not derisive, attitude toward the Geneva Conventions," Scott Horton, a lawyer who was approached by six outraged JAG officers last year, told the Chicago Tribune. "One of them said he calls it 'law in the service of terror.'

Oh. I see. I suppose this goes hand in hand with sending Negroponte in as ambassador, eh?

And just for the record, the DoD's official press release on the new Office of Detainee Affairs makes absolutely no mention of Mr. Feith, or his illustrious background.

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