May 05, 2004

The Lawyers Made Me Do It

Josh Marshall makes the necessary maneuver of putting Rumsfeld's flop-sweat "Clintonesque" (/close sarcasm tag) presser perf from yesterday in context.

Most notably, Josh points to Rumsfeld's "I'm not a lawyer" disclaimer and his attempt to fall back on a legalistic and technical differentiation between "turture" and "abuse."

What Josh misses, however, is Rumsfeld's other deployment of the "I'm not a lawyer" argument, from the same press conference.

At another point, Rumsfeld used the same phrasing to bracket his response to a question regarding the US's suspension of Geneva Convention standards for all "enemy combatants" in the "War on Terror," from Afghanistan to Guantanamo to Iraq. Didn't this very suspension, the journalist inquired, open up the conditions to where precisely this sort of abuse could/would happen?

Rumsfeld responded with the "I'm not a lawyer" dodge, and then insisted that the question was irrelevant because "the lawyers" "insisted" that such language be included in the designation of and conditions for "enemy combatants."

Now, on the one hand, this seems to be standard-issue Rummy jiu jitsu: dodge the question with a bit of wit, mocking self-deprecation, and bureaucratic palaver.

On the other hand, however, this is about as shady and suspicious a dodge as one could imagine in response to the particular question. The "lawyers" insisted on suspending Geneva standards for "enemy combatants"? Which lawyers? Perhaps this lawyer? And, why would it have been the lawyers insisting on this?

Without wandering into tinfoil-hat territory, the Confidence Man doesn't quite know how to start answering these questions.

NB: The Confidence Man notes that Chris Hitchens has now assumed the position regarding the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Hitch, too, entirely disregards the Geneva dodge:

Either these goons were acting on someone's authority, in which case there is a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws and codes and standing orders. Or they were acting on their own authority, in which case they are the equivalent of mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field.

Uh, Chris? When we say the Geneva Convention doesn't apply, then we are indeed establishing a situation wherein we have "a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws and codes and standing orders" regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners.

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