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Papal Election Process

Greg Tobin
Monday, April 18, 2005; 12:00 PM

Following the passing of Pope John Paul II, Catholics around the world mourned the loss of the pontiff who led the Church for over a quarter of a century. Now, with cardinals gathered in Rome to begin the Papal Election process, there has been intense speculation about who the next pope will be and how the decision is made. Joining us Monday, April 18 at Noon ET is Greg Tobin, an expert on what occurs in the highly secretive Conclave.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Sterling, Va.: Sen. Inhofe commented that he is outraged by all the outrage about prisoner atrocities, that "These prisoners, they are murderers, terrorists, they are insurgents...". Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty", to due process and inalienable human rights? Does he not understand that some prisoners were rounded up mistakenly or falsely accused? I'm really disgusted by this senator's outburst and think he made some very un-American statements.

Tom Malinowski: Thank you for your comment. I completely agree.

If any American POW were treated by a foreign power in the way these detainees in Iraq were treated, every American, including I am sure Senator Inhofe, would be outraged.

That some of these detainees may have been insurgents (and again -- that's not certain since there are many categories of prisoners in these facilities) is irrelevant. The United States is bound by the Geneva Conventions and by our own laws to treat all prisoners humanely. That is a legal and moral obligation and, as we've seen these last few weeks, utterly in America's self-interst.


Nederland, Colo.: According to Post reporting, most of our foreign-prisoner policies are "classified" but have all been found legal by some combination of "military or CIA lawyers", "Justice Dept", "White House General Counsel" and "NSC".
Secret World of U.S. Interrogation (Post, May 11)
What happened to the Legislative and Judicial branches? Is HRW informing or supporting action in Congress to reform our failed policies? Thank you.

Tom Malinowski: The Congress is now holding hearings and asking tough questions about the prisoner abuse scandal. But these problems might not have arisen had Congress fulfilled its responsibility to provide oversight over the government's detention and interrogation policies before things got out of hand. There were exceptions to this rule -- Senator Leahy of Vermont, for example, has been working for over a year to convince the administration to adopt clear guidelines for interrogation and treatment of detainees. But most members of Congress did not want to question the administration's policies until they were forced to by the pictures of abuse.


Washington, D.C.: Has your group demanded that al Qaeda cease beheading innocent civilians they hold captive?

Has your group demanded to inspect the conditions of the hostages held?

Tom Malinowski: We have repeatedly condemned Al Qaida's atrocities and made clear, in our work both in this country and in the Arab world, that there is never any justification for the deliberate killing of civilians. As for inspecting the conditions of hostages -- well, given our stand we'd probably be taken hostage too!


Concord, N.H.: Attorney General Ashcroft has asserted that the U.S. has jurisdiction to prosecute any civilian contractors who abused prisoners. Undoubtedly he would if he could (and deny them the right to counsel because they committed their crimes outside the U.S.), but is he right?

Tom Malinowski: Yes, the U.S. does have jurisdiction. There is a law called the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, known as MEJA, which permits the prosecution in federal court of civilians who, while employed by or accompanying the armed forces overseas, commit certain crimes. But it has never been used and the Defense Department has not issued implementing guidelines. Military contractors who are U.S. nationals could also be prosecuted by a federal
court under the U.S. War Crimes Act for crimes commited inside or outside the U.S.


Volcano, HI: Mr. Malinowski:

I was startled by the estimate from military intelligence officers to the Red Cross that 70 percent to 90 percent of those detained in Iraq were arrested by mistake. I suspected many would fit that description, but like much else in this war, the reality turns out to be worse than my fears. Do you have any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, suggesting their feelings and/or actions once they are released? I know how I might react -- I certainly wouldn't be praising the glories of the occupation -- but the Iraqis have suffered so much injustice and hardship over the years, I wonder if they are more inured to such things and are able to just resume their lives.

Thank you for your valuable work, in Iraq and elsewhere. It would be nice if the world no longer needed organizations with purposes such as yours, but I guess that won't happen in my lifetime.

Tom Malinowski: Thanks for your comment. It does seem to be true that many of the people arrested by military authorities in Iraq were bystanders caught up in sweeps of neighborhoods or just people who the military thought might have information about illegal activities. And yes, we've spoken to many released detainees as have many journalists, and there is no question that their experiences -- which they discuss, of course, with their families, friends and neighbors -- add to the growing distrust among Iraqis of the occupation authorities.


Annandale, Va.: Mr. Malinowski,

While it is being alleged that Iraqi prisoners are being tortured (I say alleged because humiliation is a far cry from torture) and human rights watch is focusing on American atrocities, we are made aware of images of executions, beheadings, and kidnappings against contractors in Iraq to help the Iraqis. The people that are being embarrassed in front of women are the same ones who are shooting at our soldiers, kidnapping contractors, sabotaging Iraqi infrastructure. Why the misplaced outrage against American troops (who are in the process of being court-martialed) and silence about the atrocities committed against contractors in Iraq.

The fact that images of the atrocities is being suppressed is another issue of its own.

Tom Malinowski: I don't think that there is silence about the atrocities being committed by Iraqi insurgents! I think the difference is that most people aren't surprised to hear that terrorists behave that way. They are surprised, shocked and saddened to hear that American service men and women might abuse people over whom they had complete control. And some of the abuses do clearly involve acts of physical torture, not just psychological humiliation. The damage this has done to America's ability to advance its goals in Iraq, in the war on terrorism, and in the defense of human rights around the world is incalculable.


Washington, D.C.: How are your people greeted in detention centers in Iraq by U.S. officials?

Tom Malinowski: We have consistently had a good and open dialogue with the coalition authorities in Iraq on a host of issues, including the status of prisoners. But neither we nor any other outside group has been given access to detention facilities. The only exception to this rule is the International Committee for the Red Cross, which has a rule of reporting its findings privately to governments, rather than to the public.

Both before and since the abuse scandal broke, we have requested access to detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. We think it would be very much in the administration's interest to grant access, because without some kind of outside monitoring, the world will probably not believe that conditions are improving.


Washington, D.C.: While I don't support the sexual exploitation or intentionally inflicted physical pain. We (the U.S.) is dealing with a new kind of threat, a religious fanatic, who might not respond to more conventional (and less unpleasant) techniques. If depriving Zacarias Moussauoi of sleep would have uncovered 9/11, would it have been justified?

Tom Malinowski: Most professional interrogators will tell you that inflicting physical and mental pain on prisoners doesn't work. They will certainly tell you things to stop the pain, but they are likely to tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth. That's why military manuals on interrogation forbid these kinds of techniques, and stress instead far more effective and sophisticated psychological techniques that don't involve pain or humiliation.

The bottom line for me is that those officials who approved these methods after 9/11 have done little if anything to improve our security. The only thing they have accomplished is to tarnish the reputation of the United States and undermine its capacity to wage the war on terror around the world.


Nederland, Colo.: The uninformed comment from "Washington, D.C." challenged HRW to demand as much (or more) restraint from our enemies as ourselves, and I agree that HRW does so. But, isn't it proper in our democracy to be 'more' concerned about conduct for which we share responsibility as taxpayers and voters, than others' conduct? Can challenges like his/hers not lead to cynicism, because others do as bad or worse than we? I thank HRW for upholding a better standard for us.

Tom Malinowski: I don't remember the last time the United States went to war against good people who respect human rights and uphold the Geneva Conventions! The Nazis obviously didn't play by civilized rules in WWII; no decent American argued that this gave us the right to abuse German POWs. America does have to set a higher standard and has an interest in doing so, because America's good name, its reputation as a country that lives up to its obligations, is a large reason why other countries follow America's lead.


South Bend, Ind.: Is there a chance U.S. personnel involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners could ultimately face a tribunal for war crimes similar to the one set up in the Hague concerning the Bosnian conflict?

Tom Malinowski: Such tribunals are usually established by the United Nations Security Council when a country's domestic justice system breaks down or when it systematically refuses to hold its own accountable -- that's what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda. So long as the United States investigates and prosecutes those responsible for the abuse, there will be little cause to seek some kind of international tribunal. And realistically, it would be unlikely to happen because the United States could veto any resolution in the Security Council setting such a tribunal up.

For these reasons, the focus should remain on making sure that the military justice process in the United States does its job in this case.


Oakton, Va.: How clueless is Karpinski? Can she really believe that she can pass the buck on this one? I'm not saying she's the only one to blame, but she is not taking any reponsibiliy whatsoever for a very poorly run prison. In addition to the abuses, Taguba's report details the absence of discipline, training, and oversight. If she worked at any self respecting company, she would have been fired a long time ago. Do you get the feeling she was just counting the days till she could go home?

Tom Malinowski: I'm not in a position to assign responsibility to a particular individual -- that's for the criminal investigation to determine.

But as a matter of principle, officers in the chain of command who knew of the abuse or who should have known, and who did not take appropriate action to stop it, can and should be held accountable.

It would certainly be wrong if the only people prosecuted were a bunch of privates and sargeants -- those responsible for these detention facilities, and those who created interrogation guidelines that permitted inhumane treatment need to be called to account.


Arlington, Va.: The people tormented in the Iraqi prisons were ex-Saddam loyalists and party members. These people committed some wicked crimes against their own people. I remember seeing videos of beheading and people being tossed from 5-story buildings. A few humiliating pictures and beatings should not be compared to what these savages did to their own people. Also do you remember Jessica Lynch? She was raped and these Iraqis that you are protecting broke every bone in her body and raped her. I have no sympathy for people who caused so much pain and suffering to millions of innocent Iraqis. In my opinion they got what they disserved.

Tom Malinowski: First of all, we have no idea whether these people were Saddam loyalists or party members. In fact, it's pretty clear from the Red Cross reports (and frankly, from discussions we've had with U.S. military officials) that many people in those prisons were probably not guilty of anything.

But if some were members of the former regime, so what?Saddam and other Iraqi officials who brutalized their people should be and will be prosecuted and punished severely for what they did. But they should be punished under the law, not tortured arbitrarily by some prison guard. Otherwise, nothing will have changed in Iraq.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I have heard an interrogation description where a person withholding information is given heroin for about a week, then the heroin is replaced with sodium pentothal.. Is this a good interrogation technique, and is it permitted or does it violates the Human Rights Watch standards?

Tom Malinowski: I've talked to many people with experience conducting these kinds of interrogations, and none would say that this kind of treatment works. The prisoner would say anything to get relief, but not necessarily the truth. And any hope of establishing the right kind of rapport with the subject would be lost.

As for whether it's right or legal, the answer is obviously not. And again, all we have to do is imagine how we would feel if this were done to an American held prisoner overseas. Our military relies on the Geneva Conventions to protect its own, which is why within the government it is often the uniformed military leadership that is most insistent on upholding these standards.


Alexandria, Va.: Re the debate as to whether the media should be prevented from reporting all details and including pictures. First of all, I believe that as an American citizen and taxpayer, I am entitled and morally obligated to be fully informed of what is being done in my name -- informed with every detail, and with pictures. Second, I believe that in the long run a free and untethered exchange of information is probably the best hope the world has, because though in the shorter run it is being exploited for terrible purposes and causing pain, it is also promoting worldwide the idea of human rights and is making it harder for abusers (especially powerful governments) to get away scot-free with the kind of garbage that used to take place regularly in secret. I am actually shocked and very much saddened at all of the calls for media to either be censored or to censor itself, especially coming as they are from many Americans.

Tom Malinowski: As hard as it is to look at these pictures, it's better to have them than to suppress them. And the reality is that in this day and age, it isn't even possible to suppress such images for very long once they come into existence.

There is an ethical issue about showing the faces of the detainees being abused, though, without their consent. These are humilitating images, after all.


Washington, D.C.: Al Qaeda claims that the beheading of Nick Berg was to avenge the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. What do the everyday Iraqi citizens have to say about it? Are you getting feedback from your workers there?

Tom Malinowski: Obviously, these terrorists didn't need the excuse of the prisoner abuse to kill an American. They are just exploiting this situation, and I think most Iraqis understand that.

But the abuse scandal does make it harder for the coalition authorities to enlist the sympathy, help and support of ordinary Iraqis for their efforts there.


Anonymous: Sorry to submit such an "uninformed question," but exactly what do the Geneva Conventions say? In a nutshell, what's it about?

Tom Malinowski: The Geneva Conventions are also known as the laws of war -- they regulate the way in which armed forces are supposed to conduct themselves in war, with an emphasis on protecting civilians and prisoners. The Conventions prohibit any kind of physical or psychological abuse of prisoners, including subjecting them to humiliating or degrading treatment.

This kind of abuse is also prohibited by the Torture Convention, a treaty that the United States has ratified, and by U.S. military law. Also, last year, the Pentagon promised the Congress that it would not treat detainees in a manner that would violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and inhuman punishment if committed at home. Obviously, and unfortunately, all these standards were violated in Iraq.


Tom Malinowski: Thank you all for your questions. This is an important discussion to have -- perhaps the only good result of these revelations is that our country is finally having it.

Good bye!


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