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One Code to Rule Them All

Congress owes it to America, our allies, and our soldiers to set clear standards for the treatment of detainees.

12:00 AM, Oct 4, 2005 • By THOMAS DONNELLY and VANCE SERCHUK
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The consequences of the failure to set a clear standard for the treatment of detainees are plain to see. Again, set aside the obvious impact of Abu Ghraib and consider the less-publicized deaths at Bagram, which created a dangerous irritant in U.S.-Afghan relations. President Karzai, for instance, spent his trip to the United States on the defensive, forced to justify why he was calling for a long-term strategic partnership with Washington--including long-term access by the U.S. military to Afghan bases--in light of the murder of Afghan citizens by American soldiers. We're not only making it easier for our enemies to hate us, but harder for our friends to love us.

Further, the issue of detainee abuse has been a critical factor in the erosion of American support for these distant and frustrating wars here at home. There is broad consensus that the political status quo in the greater Middle East poses huge dangers, but there is equal uncertainty about our ability to achieve long-term reform in the region. Nothing undercuts our moral position here at home more than the issue of abuse.

Lastly, confusion on detainee treatment is also bad for America's soldiers, who deserve clear guidance from their commanders. As a collective letter by several dozen retired general officers noted, the net effect of the current Pentagon policy is that service members have been given conflicting instructions, then "left to take the blame when things went wrong."

Given its management of this issue to date, the Defense Department's sniping at the McCain amendment is off the mark. The proposed legislation is not congressional micro-management, but an entirely proper demand that the Pentagon itself set a clear policy--as it should have done long ago.

Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk are resident fellow and research fellow, respectively, at the American Enterprise Institute.