Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Blood On Their Hands

As you've no doubt heard by now, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe excused the Abu Ghraib atrocities because the prisoners were all bad men (and women and children):
"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations," Inhofe said. "If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."
Most of the outraged commentary has focused, and rightly so, on the well-publicized estimate by Coalition military officials that 70-90% of detainees at Abu Ghraib were probably picked up by mistake.

But Inhofe's statement would be disastrous and wrong even if it could be documented that every single detainee in Abu Ghraib personally killed American soldiers. Their "guilt" or "innocence" doesn't matter in this regard, because they're prisoners of war - Rumsfeld himself has acknowledged their status. The assumption underlying prisoner of war status is that most P.O.W.s have killed members of the nation holding them prisoner - they're soldiers. Just about all soldiers in a war zone have "blood on their hands," and the Geneva Conventions entitle them to humane treatment regardless of that fact. Inhofe's statement amounts to a flat denial that soldiers captured in a war zone have a right to humane treatment by the enemy. It's not a big leap to extend that logic to captured American troops - certainly not too big a leap for the Iraqis to make.

Josh Marshall reports that John McCain walked out in the middle of Inhofe's rant. I wish he'd stayed and asked Inhofe whether the Vietnamese blood on his hands was supposed to have justified the torture and abuse McCain experienced as a P.O.W. But it's hard to imagine how that conversation could've ended without bloodshed on the Senate floor.