This letter by Professor Joan Fitzpatrick of the University of Washington School of Law was posted on the American Society of International Law listserve. Fitzpatrick, who is an expert on international law regarding human rights, evidently wrote it as a letter to the editor of the New York Times, in response to the Times' March 4 piece on the use of torture on Al Qaeda prisoners; however, she doesn't expect the Times will publish it, and gives permission for anyone to circulate it.
- To the Editor:
The "interrogation" techniques described in "U.S. Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody" (March 4, 2003, A14) violate basic norms of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require humane treatment of all prisoners, whether POWs or "unlawful combatants," and regardless of the nature of the conflict. All acts of violence or intimidation, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment are strictly forbidden. Does the Department of Defense argue that chaining naked prisoners to the ceiling, in freezing weather, and kicking them to keep them awake for days on end, are practices consistent with the Geneva Conventions? Is the DOD prepared to tolerate this treatment of American POWs in the Iraq war?
These practices also violate human rights treaties to which the United States is a party, specifically the prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The United States may not transfer Al Qaeda suspects to other states to facilitate their torture; that too is a violation. Moreover, there is no state on earth "that does not have legal restrictions against torture" ("Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Human, Legal and Aggressive", March 4, 2003, A13). The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.
If President Bush has commanded these practices, he has committed serious international crimes and crimes against the laws of the United States that are impeachable offenses. Congress must investigate immediately.
Secretary Rumsfeld last Friday again revealed his complete ignorance of the laws of war by suggesting that Iraqi POWs could be tried before military commissions. They may be tried only by court martial, under rules identical to those applicable to U.S. forces. As Bush and Rumsfeld are poised to launch a major war in Iraq, the world stands appalled by their utter disregard for the most fundamental norms of humanity in wartime. Heaven help our "enemies" and our own soldiers.
Joan Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey & Susan
Brotman Professor of Law
School of Law, University of Washington,
1100 N.E. Campus Parkway, Seattle WA
phone (206) 543-9368, fax (206) 685-6617
It occurs to me that there were perhaps many reasons behind the Bush administration's longtime hostility to the International Criminal Court.
[Thanks to Global Texts and Criticschism.]