Thursday, April 07, 2005

Savagery for Me, But Not for Thee 

Courtesy of our stalwart colleagues at Cursor: The government today asked a federal appeals court to reverse an earlier ruling that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are protected by the Geneva Conventions. In other words, the Bush administration is asserting the right to employ the same interrogation techniques that the Japanese used on American POW's during WWII -- practices for which we prosecuted the Japanese as war criminals:
The former Japanese prison guard was tried by the Allies after World War II for war crimes. In 1947, a U.S. military commission, citing the Geneva Conventions and customary international law, convicted him of compelling prisoners of war to practice saluting and other military exercises for as long as 30 minutes when they were tired. His sentence: 12 years of hard labor.

For decades, records of the Kikuchi case and hundreds of other postwar tribunals lay forgotten in archives and government offices around the world. But now they could assume new significance for one of the most contentious aspects of the war on terrorism: the U.S.'s treatment of prisoners . . . .

But the archives also make clear that some of the practices employed by the U.S. today resemble those that U.S. military commissions condemned when Americans were on the receiving end. The U.S. considered as war crimes such tactics as solitary confinement, sleep and sensory deprivation, manipulation of meal schedules, forcing men to answer questions while naked or restrained in painful "stress positions," and failing to register prisoners with the International Red Cross. Today, all have been approved or practiced at Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities.

The records, many of them from tribunals held at Yokohama, Japan, between 1946 and 1949, show that many defendants, like Mr. Kikuchi, received long sentences for lesser infractions, in keeping with the U.S.'s aggressive approach to prosecutions. Some of the justifications now offered both by low-level American soldiers and top officials echo those raised, with little success, by Japanese defendants called to account before American courts.

U.S. tribunals dismissed defense arguments that Japanese practices were necessary for disciplinary or interrogation reasons, that American prisoners were treated no worse than Japanese soldiers, that Japan hadn't ratified the Geneva Conventions and wasn't therefore bound by them and that, in any event, many American prisoners had forfeited POW status by bombing cities or committing acts of sabotage.

The U.S. also held senior officials accountable for actions of their underlings; the Tokyo tribunal, for instance, sentenced former Japanese foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu to seven years even though he was an acknowledged leader of the Japanese peace faction and had sought to investigate Allied complaints of prisoner mistreatment during the war. The tribunal found punishment warranted because "he should have pressed the matter, if necessary to the point of resigning."

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us