President Bush’s Press Conference on Military Commissions and National Security, September 15, 2006

Application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions

What the President said:

“Common Article 3 says that…there will be no outrages upon human dignity. [I]t’s very vague. What does that mean, outrages upon human dignity? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation.”

Human Rights First’s response:

Common Article 3 simply requires humane treatment of all detainees, a standard completely consistent with U.S. law and tradition. It embodies who we are as a country.

The President’s suggestion that it cannot be applied because its prohibition of “outrages upon human dignity” is “wide open to interpretation” is wrong.

A wide range of military leaders have confirmed this. As Maj. Gen. Romig stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “[Common Article 3] doesn’t address interrogations directly. It only addresses abusive treatment that, quite frankly, is what we train our soldiers not to do anyway….”

The U.S. Army’s own field manual provides a common sense definition that should apply to all U.S. officials: the U.S. government should not use any technique on an enemy prisoner that Americans would not want to see used on a captured U.S. soldier. Common Article 3 is not about our enemies. It’s about who we are as a people.

If these publicly delineated standards are being used effectively by the military, the Administration has failed to make the case for why the CIA or other government agencies need to operate by different rules.

Coercive Interrogations by the CIA

What the President said:

“I think it’s vital and I have the obligation to make sure that our professionals who I would ask to go conduct interrogations to find out what might be happening or who might be coming to this country – I’ve got to give them the tools they need, and that is clear law.”

Human Rights First’s response:

We agree on the need for clear rules. But the Administration is suggesting just the opposite. On September 6 the President urged Congress to allow the CIA to use an “alternative set of [interrogation] procedures” which reportedly include waterboarding (submersion in water to simulate drowning), forcing individuals to remain in stress positions for prolonged periods of time, and forced nudity. Over the past five years, senior U.S. Government officials have authorized these and other specific interrogation techniques. But authorizing these practices does not make them legal.

On the same day as the President made his speech the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, Lt. Gen. John F. Kimmons, announced the Army’s rejection of coercive interrogation techniques in its revised Field Manual on Interrogations. Lt. Gen. Kimmons stated categorically that “[n]o good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices.”

One striking example of the effect of unreliable information is the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. In 2002, he was interrogated by the CIA, who turned him over to Egyptian agents for harsh interrogation. Under that interrogation, he gave detailed information describing ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which the administration then relied on to make the case for initiating the war in Iraq. Al-Libi recanted after he was returned to U.S. custody, and the U.S. intelligence community recommended that information obtained from al-Libi be regarded as highly suspect.

Accountability for Violating the Article 3

What the President said:

“[The Article 3 standard is] so vague that it’s impossible to ask anybody to participate in the program for fear — for that person having a fear of breaking the law. That’s the problem.”

…And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they’re doing is legal. You know, it’s a — and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.?”

Human Rights First’s response:

The U.S. military has in the revised Army Field Manual, and this is what the CIA must do for its personnel. It is not enough for the President to say, as he did on September 6 that he “cannot describe the specific [interrogation] methods used – I think you understand why.”

Interrogation rules used by all U.S. officials need to be reviewed and analyzed beyond the Executive Branch, in part to determine whether they comply with the law. Once those rules are in place, they need to be followed by every U.S. official. And those who violate these laws must be subjected to strict discipline and, where appropriate, criminal prosecution.

One reason the President wants to “clarify” the rules now is to remedy the injustice that has been done to U.S. intelligence professionals who relied on assurances by senior government officials that the laws of war do not apply to our fight with al Qaeda. Based on those assurances, some of these intelligence officials took actions which violated the law, as the Supreme Court has now confirmed. But now the President wants to redefine what is meant by Common Article 3, so that the same abusive techniques that were authorized before can continue.


Published on September 15, 2006


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