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Moral Authority and the Geneva Conventions September 15, 2006

Posted by papundit in Uncategorized.
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Does prior military service lend a speaker greater moral authority when it comes to questions of how to treat terrorists?  The media seem to think so, but James Taranto provides an exquisitely lucid rebuttal to this theory:

The argument is that unless we interpret the Geneva Convention as providing maximal protections to terrorists, our enemies will mistreat U.S. soldiers in their captivity. Assume for the sake of argument that this is true. If the restrictions on interrogations that Powell and McCain advocate result in another 9/11, then they will have sacrificed the lives of women and children in order to protect soldiers. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Further, McCain’s personal experiences–which lead people to be skittish about criticizing him on this subject–actually argue against his position. As a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, McCain suffered actual, brutal torture–not just aggressive questioning of the sort that the Bush administration seeks to legalize. America’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions did not protect McCain–even though he, unlike the al Qaeda detainees, was a legitimate prisoner of war; and Hanoi, unlike al Qaeda, had ratified the Geneva Conventions and thus was legally bound by them.

The whole point of the Geneva Conventions is reciprocity: Nations agree that when they fight wars, they will do so in accordance with some civilized rules. Extending the conventions’ protection to terrorists, who reject those rules, transforms Geneva into a suicide pact. John McCain is one of the Senate’s true war heroes, but in this area his personal experience seems to be clouding, rather than clarifying, his views.

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