Monday, June 05, 2006

Sins of Omission

Among the many questions that remain after reading today's report, from the Agence France Presse, that the Pentagon is planning to omit a major principle of the Geneva Conventions that expressly prohibits "humiliating and degrading treatment," apart from the obvious, has the upper echelon of the military learned nothing from the animalism now known simply as "Abu Ghraib," comes this: when do the parallel lines of sins of omission and sins of commission merge?

In the new field "how to" instruction manual soon to be provided to the Army, what may be euphemistically called "interrogation techniques" will be covered, and according to a senior official in the Defense Department rewritten to ensure maximum efficacy while "providing safeguards to ensure detainees are treated humanely." (AFP News). Clearly, from what we've seen of how this war has been (mis)handled, the term "humane" is a relative one, and can one rogue nation (ours) take it upon themselves to redefine, and deconstruct centuries of international law unambiguously in the name of defeating an ambiguous, and protean enemy?

When the State Department finds itself pitted against an executive branch that is in bed with the Pentagon, and the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency also happens to be a prominent former member of the military, one can't help but wonder how the planets may be expected to align to prevent such overt, and undeniable, crimes against humanity as Abu Ghraib, and Haditha from recurring.

That a nation, any nation, can spit in the face of the Magna Carta by defaming all notions of due process, by holding detainees without charge at Guantanamo Bay, and now plan to implement new policies which fly in the face of international law requires us, as a nation, to ask ourselves if the sin of omission is really any different than commission. When one country opts to go off into the sunset, and rewrite the rules upon which all countries have agreed to operate for generations, whether it comes to tactics by which information is gleaned, or nuclear nonproliferation agreements, it is encumbent upon all to take the appropriate measures if civilization, as we know it, is to survive. It was, after all, the intent behind the formation of the League of Nations, and the United Nations, to develop a sense of community. That this country now poses the gravest risk to world harmony is an egregious irony, and one that would not be lost on Woodrow Wilson, any more than it would be on John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

While the Pentagon has habituated itself to the unorthodox, and unofficial practice of outsourcing torture, "extraordinary rendition," to omit a major tenet of an international covenant drawn up at Geneva from a prospective Army manual is tantamount to institutionalizing the kind of nationalism the world strove to protect itself against with World War II. If we learned nothing else from the trials at Nuremberg we, as a planet, have learned this: sooner or later, the act of omitting and that of committing will be seen as one and the same.