Is the White House's Geneva flip legit?

Is the White House's Geneva flip legit?

Is the White House's Geneva flip legit?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 12 2006 3:46 AM

Geneva Genuflection

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox, and New York Timesalllead with the administration at least seeming to cry uncle and acknowledge it's bound by the Supreme Court's recent ruling that even terror suspects are entitled to base-line protections spelled out by the Geneva Conventions. The Los Angeles Timesleads with and others front the bombings of at least seven commuter trains in Mumbai, which killed about 190 people and wounded about 400. Six million people ride the trains daily in the city, which was previously known as Bombay and is India's financial hub. There were no claims of responsibility, but obviously Kashmiri jihadists top the list of suspects. Also yesterday, a grenade attack on a tourist bus in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed eight. USA Today's intriguing lead says the number of high schools and middle schools that give students drug tests, while still just in the hundreds, has been increasing (getting higher?) thanks largely to the Bush administration giving funding for the tests.

You wouldn't know it from some of the headlines, but there's plenty of confusion about where the administration now stands on detainees.

Advertisement

Terror suspects in U.S. custody won't get full POW status under the Genevas. Instead—per SCOTUS's order—they'll be covered by what's known as Common Article 3, which simply says detainees must be treated humanely and can't face "outrages upon personal dignity." Word of the change, which was first reported by the Financial Times, came via a Pentagon memo (posted and annotated by Slate's Tim Noah).

"It doesn't indicate a shift in policy," a Pentagon lawyer told senators. Except it does. President Bush signed an executive order back in 2002 concluding that terror suspects weren't covered by any part of the Genevas. A statement "late yesterday from the White House" clarified: "As a result of the Supreme Court decision, that portion of the order no longer applies."

Moreover, a Pentagon memo on the military's newly recognized obligations suggested that no previous military interrogation policies ran afoul of the Genevas. It'll be an interesting argument if they stick to it: SecDef Rumsfeld had briefly approved keeping a detainee naked, in dark cell, and leading him around by a leash. Is the administration A-OK with those orders?

"The administration has fought tooth and nail for four years to say Common Article 3 does not apply to Al Qaeda," one former Justice Department lawyer told the NYT. "Having lost that fight, I'm afraid they're now saying, 'Never mind, we've been in compliance with Article 3 all along.' "

Advertisement

So far as TP knows, the military has no current interrogation techniques that violate the Geneva protections—but the CIA, which is holding top suspects, has a whole slew of them. This is where things get even murkier. Citing the White House's statement, the NYT declares that even the agency has been ordered to play by the new rules. The WP says that might not be a done deal: "Some officials said the CIA decision was firm; others described it as preliminary. ... But there is resistance to the idea of bringing the CIA prisoners into public scrutiny." And the LAT, perhaps just behind the curve, says the "administration remained silent" on the question.

Flashback: When the Supreme Court handed down its detainee decision a few weeks ago, most of the papers focused, myopically, on the question of military tribunals. Only the LAT emphasized that the ruling would, whadayaknow, force the administration to rejigger its whole stance on detainees and interrogations.

Speaking of those now stymied tribunals, the Journal, which downplays the Geneva flip, focuses on administration officials in congressional hearings telling senators they'd be much obliged if Congress would authorize new tribunals along the lines of the same ones the Supreme Court said were no good. If they keep pushing that plan, warned Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, "It's going to be a long, hot summer."

The NYT fronts an inspector-general's report concluding that the feds' potential-terrorist-target database—the one they use to help apportion security funding—is hopelessly stuffed with Podunk places. Sites on the list include the "Amish Country Popcorn factory," "Nix's Check Cashing," and a "Beach at End of a Street." Indiana ranked as the state with the most possible targets, twice as many as California.

Advertisement

The NYT, alone, fronts about 50 people killed in Baghdad in continuing sectarian attacks that included a "double suicide bombing near busy entrances to the fortified Green Zone, scattered shootings, mortar attacks, a series of car bombs and the ambush of a bus with Shiite mourners returning from a burial."

The WP goes inside with a dispatch from a Sunni neighborhood raided yesterday by Shiite militia. One resident dialed 130, the government's emergency number. "The Mahdi Army has attacked Amiriyah," he told a dispatcher.

"The Mahdi Army are not terrorists like you," came the response.

A Page One Post piece says the military has decided to wind up its massive no-bid logistics contract with Halliburton. It will put out the work for bidding and eventually split it among three companies. The piece also flags on an underreported development: The U.S. isn't planning on spending any more dough to help Iraq rebuild. "The Iraq reconstruction is winding down," said an Army spokesman. "There is no need for new contracts to replace the existing" ones.

The NYT goes inside with an uplifting human rights conference in Moscow, where participants gathered to discuss ideals such as free elections and free speech and were soon joined in their quorum by "Russian security officers, in plain clothes, who ... swiftly seized four members" of the conference. At least those guys got to check out the morning meetings: "Participants said more than 40 of their members had been arrested throughout Russia while traveling to the conference."