Reciprocal Torture is Not the Problem
One of the points Senator Biden made in his questioning of the Attorney General yesterday was that using torture puts our troops in danger of being tortured themselves. This is quite right, but there are other pragmatic reasons as well. I made this point during the early days of the war in Iraq, but unfortunately it is still fully applicable.
The best reason for abiding by the Geneva Convention (and other prohibitions on torture) is NOT the prevention of reciprocal violations. Even if the Iraqis began torturing our troops, there is a very good strategic reason for treating our prisoners properly: We want those still at large to surrender.
If an Iraqi militiaman thinks he is going to be mistreated by the coalition, or shipped off without rights to a Caribbean island for indefinite detainment, he is much less likely to surrender. Why not simply fight to the death?
The best historical example is the final assault on Germany. German POWs were treated well by American and British forces, and our forces received relatively good treatment in return. But even more importantly for present purposes, as the German regime began to crumble, Germans were willing to surrender to American and British forces. By the end of the war we had over 400,000 POWs in America (German and Italian), not to mention thousands of prisoners still in Europe.
Not so on the Eastern front. Years of brutality and summary execution of prisoners on both sides convinced Germans (probably correctly) that they would be mistreated or killed if they surrendered to the Russians. Thus they fought to the last man, inflicting significant Russian casualties in the process. That, or they fled west in hopes of surrendering to British or American forces.
So I think the real question is, not whether our treatment of the Guantanamo detainees (and now, the Abu Ghraib prisoners) makes America hypocritical or risks retribution, but whether fear of that fate might discourage Iraqi militiamen and their leaders from surrendering.
Now that we are at least partially into an occupation/nation-building mode, this same effect might also discourage sympathetic Iraqis from cooperating with us. If they thought their neighbor or cousin would be dealt with properly, perhaps they might tip off coalition forces. If they think he is going to be tortured, they are probably less likely to turn him in.
UPDATE: Perhaps I should add that like Another Rice Grad, I think principle alone should suffice to rule out the use of torture. I offer the pragmatic argument merely for those who see the issue of principle in more shades of gray.