SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.) asked two senior Pentagon officials exactly the right question yesterday about the Bush administration's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. "If you were shown a video of a United States Marine or an American citizen in control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?" The answer is obvious, and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, honestly provided it. "I would describe it as a violation," Mr. Pace said. "What you've described to me sounds to me like a violation of the Geneva Convention," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
Case closed -- except that the practices described by Mr. Reed have been designated by the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, as available for use on Iraqi detainees, and certified by the Pentagon as legal under the Geneva Conventions. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, they have been systematically applied to prisoners across that country. And earlier this week, the bosses of both Mr. Pace and Mr. Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, defended the techniques as appropriate.
Mr. Rumsfeld repeated that defense yesterday. "Anyone who's running around saying the Geneva Convention did not apply in Iraq is either terribly uninformed or mischievous," he told reporters during his visit to Iraq. He has said that the administration accepted that the conventions applied in Iraq, unlike in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected Taliban fighters and al Qaeda terrorists are being held. The question, though, is whether the conventions were followed in Iraq or whether they were systematically violated, as the Red Cross and many war crimes lawyers in and outside the U.S. military have concluded. Mr. Rumsfeld brushed off those conclusions. "Geneva doesn't say what you do when you get up in the morning," he declared. "Some will say . . . it is mental torture to do something that is inconvenient in a certain way for a detainee, like standing up for a long period . . . someone else might say [it] is not in any way abusive or harmful."
Now Mr. Pace and Mr. Wolfowitz have said the techniques approved by Mr. Sanchez would be illegal if used on Americans; Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Myers say they are fine as applied to Iraqis. But there are not separate Geneva Conventions for Americans and for the rest of the world. We learned this week that the Pentagon approved the use of hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, intimidation by dogs and prolonged solitary confinement as legal under the Geneva Conventions. By defending that policy, Mr. Rumsfeld is further harming America's reputation while sanctioning the use of similar techniques on captured Americans around the world. Instead of defending their use, the administration should be disavowing them and rededicating itself to international law.