September 20, 2006
The Other Reciprocity
September 20, 2006 12:14 AM
Below, co-blogger Sean makes an excellent point about the kind of reciprocity that tends to get ignored in discussions about the Geneva Conventions: that while the nations who care about observing prohibitions on ill-treatment (Canada, the EU, et al.) are unlikely to conflict with the U.S. and thus hold our soldiers captive, they are likely to be necessary partners in detecting, preventing and punishing terrorism, and if they are squeamish about how we treat detainees, they may not be fully and wholeheartedly cooperative in fighting our enemies. This may lead to less cooperation on our side, and a general breakdown of "mutual action, influence, giving and taking, correspondence, etc."
This is something that John Hawkins and other Bush supporters prefer to ignore, in favor of going on about how Al Qaeda never will treat our soldiers humanely, so we needn't worry about the reciprocity issue. "Granted, the Geneva Convention could be of use in the unlikely event that we were to get into a war with Belgium, Italy, Spain or some other Western European nation." Prof. Glenn Reynolds remarks, "There are arguments for treating terrorists as if the Geneva Conventions applied, but reciprocity isn't one of them and, as Hawkins notes, the argument from reciprocity actually cuts the other way."
Al Qaeda's predilection for cutting off civilians' heads doesn't indicate that they're going to treat soldiers any better, and we're probably not going to war with any nation that does observe the Geneva Conventions scrupulously. But we still have to worry about how those nations regard our treatment of prisoners. Already some countries refuse to extradite accused criminals to the U.S. if the death penalty may be applied to such persons. What happens when Canada & Co. think that America is going to engage in "aggressive interrogation techniques," without even a trial to determine if the subject of waterboarding has committed a crime?
But according to the article Sean linked, the Canadian commission report found that it was a violation of policy for the RCMP to have shared the Arar information with the US, independent of what the US planned to do with it. In other words, regardless of our rendition policy, the Canadians already weren't supposed to be cooperating with the US in this case.
It is not that the Canadians weren't supposed to cooperate with the U.S. in that particular case; it's that the RCMP exaggerated the actual potential threat posed by Arar. "[M]aterial had not been double-checked to ensure its accuracy and reliability — a violation of the RCMP rules for sharing information with foreign agencies." It was fine for the RCMP to share information with any nation as long as that information was definitely correct.
This is different from Canada's potentially deciding not to share information with the U.S. in *any* case where such information would lead to the use of torture, even if the person subjected to torture had far closer and clearer ties to terrorism than the unfortunate Mr. Arar did.
And this will be a worry when a Canadian commission's conclusions become government policy. As it is, however, Canada would have to be pretty much nuts to stop trading information on criminals with the United States. They share an utterly indefensible and enormous border with a country in which it's legal to buy guns. How likely is it that they're going to stop information exchange on criminal activity, thus prompting us to do the same?
I don't follow how the legality of gun purchases is relevant to Canada, particularly considering that is legal to buy a variety of non-automatic guns there.
As for the likelihood of Canada's failing to exchange information on common criminals (whom I hadn't realized we had a policy of torturing), this is indeed very low. But this muddles the issue of common criminals, which is relatively unpoliticized except with regard to the death penalty, with the intensely politicized issue of suspects in terrorism. If Canada has to worry that giving information will result in U.S. torture -- something that, again, I hadn't thought was a concern for common criminals -- then it may well become reluctant to dirty its hands thus. Given a case in which it has some information but nothing certain or conclusive, it may weigh the probability of U.S. torture against the probability that the suspect actually will harm someone, and decide that the former is too likely to permit the conscientious sharing of information.