Douglas Feith

Torture Connection: 
Authored legal arguments to abandon Geneva Conventions
  • Born 1953, Philadelphia.
  • Graduated from Harvard University and Georgetown University Law School.
  • Under Reagan, worked on National Security Council, then in Defense Department under Richard Perle and Caspar Weinberger.
  • During Clinton years, worked as a private lawyer and a lobbyist for the government of Turkey.
  • Under Bush, served as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
  • After leaving government, joined Hudson Institute think tank

Douglas Feith provided rationale for abandoning the Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners

As a mid-level Defense Department aide in the Reagan administration, Feith had persuaded Reagan to reject Protocol I to the Geneva Accords, dealing with non-uniformed combatants, on grounds that it could protect terrorists. He had written that Common Article 3 of the Accords, which we had already ratified, could not be applied to non-state-sponsored enemy combatants.

Fifteen years later, when he returned to the Defense Department in the Bush administration, Feith took the Orwellian position that the Geneva Conventions would be defiled if any protection whatsoever was extended to terror suspects or Taliban. Such arguments found ready ears among officials eager to evade all restrictions on prisoner interrogation. Feith's memos, and other officials' memos referencing Feith's arguments, formed the basis for Bush's decision that the U.S. would not be bound by the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Feith's ideas were also cited by Defense Department lawyer Haynes in a memo approved by Rumsfeld that listed torture techniques permissible because the Geneva protections were not being enforced.

Feith: "Fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

Feith was inclined to brag about his role in policy decision-making. "I was a player," he told journalists. The February 2002 Bush memo setting aside Geneva Conventions "was something I played a major role in."

Military lawyers and top brass fought to retain Geneva protections, which formed the basic framework for the Army field manual and underlay all combat planning. The State Department also was loathe to abandon such a major treaty. Feith outmaneuvered his opponents, sometimes by keeping them out of the loop, sometimes by deceptively claiming to share their respect for Geneva.

Gen. Tommy Franks, who because of Feith's political shenanigans was forced to devise entirely new procedures for handling prisoners while in the midst of fighting a war in Afghanistan, referred to Feith as "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

Feith also assisted Rumsfeld and Cheney with other outrageous projects, such as the Office of Special Projects, a Pentagon operation attempting to second-guess CIA intelligence analysts who had failed to discern a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The Spanish Inquisition

After leaving government in 2002, Feith sought unsuccessfully to get a tenured teaching position at Georgetown and eventually settled in at the Hudson Institute think tank. He has devoted much effort to attempting to clear his name, insisting that he only provided advice, never set or implemented policy. He argues that advising the President not to protect prisoners with the Geneva Conventions could not be linked to subsequent torture of those prisoners. He has also participated in efforts to advise the Israeli government that Palestinian prisoners should not be covered by the Geneva Conventions, but he insists that he was only "consulted" in such projects and did not officially "coauthor" relevant documents.

In March 2009, a Spanish court named him and other Bush-era officials in criminal complaints concerning torture at Guantanamo of prisoners who were citizens of Spain or had other connections to Spain. Feith claimed to be shocked that anything he had ever done might be considered remotely relevant to torture.

Sources on Douglas Feith