June 17, 2004, 11:11 a.m.
Barbarians at the Geneva Gates
(Why are we giving al Qaeda perks?)
“There's a reason why we sign these treaties: to protect my son in the military," Sen. Joseph Biden (D., Del.) hissed at the attorney general through his enormous teeth. "That's why we have these treaties, so when Americans are captured they are not tortured. That's the reason in case anybody forgets it."
The relevant reason we sign treaties like the Geneva Convention is so that other signatory nations do unto us as we would do unto them. That means we can't subject captured French soldiers to Caddyshack II, and France can't subject our boys to Jerry Lewis marathons.
Okay, perhaps I'm making too much light of a serious thing — torture. But, then again, so is Biden. The Geneva Convention is a contract, like all treaties. And contracts obligate those who sign them to certain behavior.
Hence, POWs from signatory nations are entitled to all sorts of stuff, including dormitories replete with educational and entertainment facilities and generous canteens run by POWs who receive a share of the profits.
As Rich Lowry and others have pointed out, many of these provisions are the vestiges of World War II — when millions of conscripts were thrown into a faraway conflict and, hence, deserved not merely humane treatment, but, in Lowry's words, "Hogan's Heroes" treatment.
And that's why White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez suggested in a 2002 memorandum that the Geneva Convention seemed "quaint" in the context of the war on terror.
But that's all beside the point for the moment. Because regardless of whether it's "quaint" for prison guards to behave like Sgt. Schultz ("I see nothink!"
, one thing is clear: The Geneva Convention does not require countries who haven't signed it to do anything at all.
And guess what? Osama bin Laden has as much use for the Geneva Convention as he does for the new Lady Remington electric shaver.
So yeah, Biden is correct in all of his pious glory that the Geneva Convention protects military personnel like his son from being tortured — but it protects them from torture by forces from other countries who have signed the Geneva Convention: and no one else. (By the way, Biden's son is quite safe as a stateside military lawyer — a fact Biden revealed after the useful sound bite was over.)
(p.s., biden's son did serve as a judge advocate in iraq later. zb)