Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security, and a co-editor of a new collection of memos called The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib answered some questions online at The Chronicle of Higher Education website today.
Question from Theodore Hasse, UC Berkeley:
It seems that the assertion by some administration officials and advisors (Professor John Yoo for example) that unlawful combatants are not protected by the Geneva Convention has been inaccurately equated with a defense of torture. Is the denial of Geneva Convention protections to those who do not meet the criteria for such protections really tantamount to torture?
Karen J. Greenberg:
This is an excellent question and one I really like to hear John Yoo discuss. Deciding to move away from the Geneva Conventions is not the same thing as condoning torture or even suggesting a torture policy. In the case of these memos, however, the discussion inside the administration bases its later policies on the initial decision to separate Taliban and al Qaeda from prisoner of war status and therefore to not extend protections of the Geneva Convention. This may not have been intended to result in torture, but it set in motion perhaps unintended consequences.
It seems that Professor Yoo has commented on the claim that his legal opinion on granting prisoner of war status to Afghan fighters somehow led to Abu Ghraib.
But Yoo said Bush's move to exempt the Guantanamo Bay prisoners from the Geneva conventions applied to those prisoners only and had no role in any subsequent abuses in Iraq.
"To say the decision on al Qaeda helped create a culture in which abuses were accepted, that it set the tone for Abu Ghraib -- how can you prove or disprove that?" Yoo asked. "That's just an accusation, that's like saying, 'Because we have the death penalty or abortion in the United States, we have a culture of death.' That doesn't make sense. It is unproven and unprovable."