By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2006 – A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England underscores the department's standing policy of treating detainees humanely and orders commanders responsible for detainee affairs to review their practices to ensure they are in compliance. "The Supreme Court has determined that Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 applies as a matter of law to the conflict with al Qaeda," England stated in the July 7 memo.
In a nutshell, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions ensures humane treatment of detainees, Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters today. It specifically prohibits violence against and degrading treatment of detainees. England's memo notifies DoD departments and agencies of the June 29 Supreme Court ruling that that military commissions for detainees charged with war crimes would violate the Geneva Conventions of 1949. "The court found that military commissions as constituted by the Department of Defense are not consistent with Common Article 3," he wrote of the decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
The memo underscores the department's standing policy of treating detainees humanely, but emphasizes that it now is also "a matter of law." Except for military commission procedures, all other DoD orders, policies, directives and doctrine comply with Article 3, England wrote. He cited several documents as examples: U.S. Army Field Manual 34-52, "Intelligence Interrogation;" DoD Directive 3115.09, "DoD Intelligence Interrogation, Detainee Debriefings and Tactical Questioning;" DoD Directive 2311.01E, "DoD Law of War Program," and DoD Instruction 2310.08E, "Medical Program Support for Detainee Operations."
England also cited President Bush's directive that the U.S. military "shall continue to treat detainees humanely." In his memo, England underscored this principle and told commanders to "ensure that all DoD personnel adhere to these standards." "In this regard, I request that you promptly review all relevant directives, regulations, policies, practices and procedures under your purview to ensure that they comply with the standards of Common Article 3," he wrote.
England directed commanders to report back after completing this review, even if their response is simply, "reviewed and no effect." Whitman said the England memo has no major effect on how detainees are handled. "Humane treatment has always been the standard for detention and interrogation operations of the Defense Department," he said.
He dismissed news reports that the memo represents a sweeping reversal of DoD policy or that the Supreme Court decision extends full Geneva Convention protections to detainees. "The court did not say that full protections of the Geneva Conventions apply to al Qaeda or the Taliban," he said, but limited its ruling to Common Article 3.
The Bush administration "has indicated in a very strong way that it is going to abide by the Supreme Court decision," Whitman said. The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing today to discuss the Supreme Court ruling regarding military commissions and determine a way to move forward.
The Supreme Court decision directly affects only 14 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Ten of them already were facing commissions on charges of violating the laws of war. Officials said it could ultimately affect 40 to 80 detainees who are expected to be charged in the future. The decision was based on the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, filed on behalf of Salim Ahmed Hamdan. A former driver and bodyguard for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Hamden was picked up in Afghanistan in late 2001 and turned over to U.S. officials. He has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.
Hamdan challenged the legality of the U.S. government trying him for alleged war crimes before a military commission under a presidential order. His lawyers argued that he was entitled to a court-martial convened under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or a civilian trial before a federal judge.