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Army Field Manual: Better, But Not Perfect

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January 28, 2009

It seems that a lot of discussion in Washington has been about how President Obama has gone about achieving the change he’s promised, whether it’s on bailout money or reversing the previous administration’s torture policy. So far, it looks like he’s taking steps in the right direction, with some compromise thrown in.

That’s the approach he took with last week’s executive order on interrogations (PDF), which requires all interrogations by U.S. personnel, conducted anywhere in the world, to conform to the Army Field Manual (AFM). Don’t get us wrong: adherence to the AFM is a vast improvement on what we had before — the “torture-is-ok-because-the-Office-of-Legal-Counsel-said-so” reasoning followed by the Bush administration. But it’s also widely agreed that the Army Field Manual is far from perfect. The ACLU has expressed some real concerns about the AFM, and specifically Appendix M, which permits prolonged isolation:

Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, has stated that portions of the AFM are “deeply problematic” and “would likely violate the War Crimes Act and Geneva,” and at the very least “leave the door open for legal liability.”

On Rachel Maddow’s show last week, Jameel Jaffer, director of the National Security Project, said:

[T]here is, in fact, even in the Army Field Manual right now, there is the authority to use solitary confinement as a method of eliciting information from prisoners.And that is something that violates both international and even domestic law as well.

So I don’t think that extending the field manual solves all the problems.

So, as we’ve said before , our work is far from over. We’d like to see the troubling parts of the AFM—like Appendix M —brought in line with U.S. and international law. And of course, we’re still looking for a commitment from President Obama to use the existing, time-tested federal courts to bring the Guantánamo detainees to justice. Stay tuned.

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