We would Never do such a thing, but we'd prefer to reserve the right , just in case

In the past two weeks, a steady but unexpected stream of news about the United States and torture has hit the headlines.

  • The Supreme Court announced it will consider whether military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay are fit due process for the "enemy combatants"--they lack access to lawyers, face officers instead of a jury, and must overcome a burden of proof biased against them, contrary to domestic procedures.
  • The Washington Post shocked even Congress by publishing an expose on November 2, reporting that the United States operates an extensive network of secret detention centers in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, beyond the warden of legal and political oversight.
  • Senator John McCain has successfully added to several defense spending bills amendments that explicitly bind the CIA and government-operated foreign dentention facilities to the Geneva Convention's prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
  • The Administration is responding by pressing hard for an exemption for the CIA, while still professing innocence against accusations and mounting evidence of detainee mistreatment, abuse, and perhaps "torture" at its detention facilities in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
  • The United Nations just released a report that includes the United States among countries violating the Geneva Convention's prohibition of torture, for which it relied on independent reports in the absence of US government cooperation.

While human rights activists have been documenting detainee abuse reports for years, even an internal CIA report last year expressed fears that the interrogation policies were beyond Geneva's bounds.

This swelter of torture facts, allegations, denouncements and justifications should put every American on edge. Even apart from the very weighty moral arguments against the use of torture, the Administration's game in trying to have it both ways--by both denying accusations of torture and fighting virulently on the sidelines to preserve every road to it---obfuscates a real conversation about torture. Define it; then discuss it.

A new Human Rights Watch book, Torture, puts forth the very straight-forward questions that need to be asked: Does It Ever Make Us Safe? Is It Ever OK? While it is tempting to condemn it outright and absolutely, US national security policies designed to defend against states rather than anomalous, non-state, internationally-diffused, low-budget terrorists expose serious vulnerabilities that need to be directly addressed. The infamous ticking-time bomb scenario, in which torture is seemingly the only way to prevent the cataclysmic loss of innocent lives, poses the most extreme example where a blanket ban on torture is put to the test.

Giving the Administration the benefit of the doubt, maybe there are circumstances in which torture should be permissible. But the way to carving out those distinctions and preserving the flexibility of the government's defense mechanism is not to scoff at the very idea of using torture with a very vague definition, then quietly undermine every American and international protocol which criminalizes it. If a just cause can be made, as the moral-expositor President and his Hawkish (if not hawk-eyed) VP attest, then make it publicly; put it forth to the American people, who are no more interested in being decimated by terrorists than any other nationality of human beings.


Bridgitte said...

Lessons from a Campaign Blogger
Matt Stoller , until recently the chief blogger for Jon Corzine's gubernatorial run in New Jersey, has a must-read piece on the future of blogs in political campaigns.
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playfulmind said...

spammers suck (see previous post), but this piece did point me in the direction of Matt Stoller, who yesterday spoke on CNN and...see next post.