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Context of 'September 27, 2007: Justice Department Official Claims CIA Interrogation Program Fully Compliant with Geneva Conventions'

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Ron Wyden.Ron Wyden. [Source: Public domain / US Congress]Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) writes to the Justice Department’s acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Steven Bradbury, asking for clarification of the Bush administration’s stance on the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the interrogation of detainees. Wyden notes that President Bush has recently affirmed that the US would observe the conventions’ standards on humane treatment of all prisoners, and asks precisely how the OLC defines the concept of “humane treatment.” Wyden wants to know what circumstances definitions of that term might vary under, and asks the same questions of the term “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” The principal deputy assistant attorney general, Brian Benczkowski, will answer Wyden’s letter on September 27, 2007 (see September 27, 2007). [US Senate, 8/8/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Brian A. Benczkowski, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions, Steven Bradbury, Ron Wyden, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s Brian Benczkowski answers Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)‘s request for clarification of the terms “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” as it applies to suspected terrorists in US custody. Benczkowski writes that the government uses the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) and a recent executive order, Order #13440 (authorizing the continued use of harsh interrogation methods—see July 20, 2007) to determine how the US will comply with the Geneva Conventions. Benczkowski writes that Order 13440 and the Army Field Manual, among other guidelines, ensure that any interrogations carried out by US personnel comply with Geneva.
Geneva Does Not Clearly Define 'Humane Treatment' - He goes on to note that the term “humane treatment” is not directly defined by Geneva, but “rather provides content by enumerating the specific prohibitions that would contravene that standard.” Common Article 3, the statute in the Conventions that specifically addresses the treatment of prisoners, expressly prohibits “violence” including “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” It also prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity,” including “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Benczkowski writes that there is no accepted international standard as to what is defined as “humane treatment” and what is not, outside of the basic provisions of food, water, clothing, shelter, and protection from extremes of temperature. Given this standard, he writes, the Bush administration does ensure that “all detainees within the CIA program shall be treated humanely.”
Defined by Circumstances - He goes on to note that Geneva seems to grant some leeway for interpretation as to what complies with its standards, particularly in the area of “outrages upon personal dignity.” Citing a previous international tribunal, he writes, “To rise to the level of an outrage, the conduct must be ‘animated by contempt for the human dignity of another person’ and it must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that must be universally condemned.” None of the methods used by US interrogators contravenes any of these standards as the Justice Department interprets them, Benczkowski concludes. As for the question of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” or as he abbreviates it, “CIDT,” Benczkowski writes that such treatment is prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. However, circumstances determine what is and is not CIDT, he writes; even “in evaluating whether a homicide violates Common Article 3, it would be necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the act.” The CIA interrogation program fully complies with Common Article 3, various statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and the Bill of Rights, Benczkowski asserts. [US Department of Justice, 9/27/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Brian A. Benczkowski, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Geneva Conventions, Ron Wyden, Military Commissions Act

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Justice Department attorney Brian Benczkowski replies to a follow-up letter from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is challenging the department’s claims that the CIA detainee interrogation program is fully compliant with US and international law (see December 20, 2007). Much of Benczkowski’s letter is a reiteration of points made in an earlier letter (see September 27, 2007), even citing the same legal cases that Wyden challenged as not directly relevant to the Justice Department’s arguments. Benczkowski reiterates that the definitions of “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are flexible, in the department’s view, and can change drastically depending on the identity of the detainee and the circumstances surrounding his interrogation. The standards of compliance are also mitigated by the “nature and importance of the government interest,” he claims, giving as an example the possibility of abrogating a detainee’s fundamental rights under the Geneva Conventions and other statutes in order to force information about an impending terrorist attack from him. Benczkowski reiterates that the Eighth Amendment only applies to prisoners after they have been convicted of a crime; hence, detainees never tried or charged for crimes have no rights under that amendment. It is apparent that Benczkowski considers the discussion closed; he concludes his letter with the statement, “Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.” [US Department of Justice, 3/6/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Brian A. Benczkowski, Ron Wyden, Geneva Conventions, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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