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The United States Of Torture

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    The United States Of Torture Matthew Yglesias September 27, 2006 http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/09/27/the_united_states_of_torture.php The United
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006
      The United States Of Torture
      Matthew Yglesias
      September 27, 2006

      "The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of
      torture," George W. Bush explained in a June 2003 speech , "and we are
      leading this fight by example."

      Oh, the irony!

      At the time, Bush seemed to have a good grasp of the relevant issues.
      "Freedom from torture," he said, "is an inalienable human right."
      True. "The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
      Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130
      other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately
      inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within
      their custody or control." Also true. And lastly, a straightforward
      recognition of who the torturers of the world are, and why they do it:
      "Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue
      regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the
      human spirit."

      Last week, we learned that among those spirit-crushing rogue regimes
      was the government of the United States of America, which is now
      "leading by example" in the field of hair-splitting and wink-nod
      authorizations of torture. Thanks to the recent "compromise" between
      the hard-core torturers in the Bush administration and "moderate"
      Republican torture opponents, we continue to live in a country that
      does not officially endorse the infliction of "severe pain." That
      would be torture, you see. "Serious pain," however, is fine. That's
      merely cruel and degrading treatment. (The president used to be
      against that, too, but, well, things change.)

      The interesting thing, as David Luban points out, is that the
      compromise defines "serious pain" as "bodily injury that involves
      extreme physical pain," so the ultimate significance of this
      distinction between serious and severe might be called into question.
      More to the point, the law simply shreds the very concept of law, as
      Jack Balkin explained with this rundown of the components:

      Eliminating the writ of habeas corpus, denying anyone the right to
      invoke rights guaranteed by Geneva in judicial actions, prohibiting
      the use of any foreign sources in construing the meaning of the Geneva
      Conventions, proclaiming that the president is the authoritative
      source of the meaning of Geneva with respect to the War Crimes
      statute, amending the War Crimes statute with language that allows the
      president to continue to engage in torture-lite (after all, he is now
      the authoritative source of its meaning), and finally, making all
      these amendments retroactive to November 26, 1997.

      Other countries, of course, practice torture in violation of
      international law. As has now been clear for a while, we have been in
      their company for some years. The latest twist, however, is that we
      now won't show any shame about it. Rather than simply violating the
      laws to which we have agreed to adhere, we're repudiating them, simply
      denying that the standard by which civilized nations operate apply to us.

      The problems here will be widespread. One of the strengths of
      democracies on the international scene is precisely that it's much
      harder for liberal states to violate agreements. Dictatorships can say
      one thing and do another with ease. Democracies feature free presses,
      free speech, the rule of law, independent judiciaries, legislative
      oversight, and other measures to ensure that laws and treaties are
      followed. This is, to the conservative mind, a weakness. In their
      view, cheating is a good thing, and America's historical difficulty in
      cheating constitutes a problem. They're dead wrong. Cooperation is a
      good thing—the best ticket to prosperity, security, and international
      peace. Democracies can cooperate with other countries—and especially
      with other democracies—more credibly and effectively, and that's one
      of the reasons the world's democratic block is so much stronger and
      more prosperous than the rest of the world.

      But the rule of law is now off the table as far as Bush is concerned.
      What's more, insofar as national-security policy is at issue, the
      United States increasingly doesn't look like much of a democracy. As
      the congressional Republicans march in lockstep behind the White
      House's torture agenda, they don't even know the composition of that
      agenda. The Boston Globe reported Saturday that 90 percent of members
      of Congress don't know "which interrogation techniques have been used
      in the past, and none of them know which ones would be permissible
      under proposed changes to the War Crimes Act." Which is to say: In
      practice, absolutely everything would be permitted, since the only
      people capable of overseeing the interrogation program haven't done
      it, won't do it and have no intention of doing it in the future.

      Consequently, the United States now presents itself as what amounts to
      the globe's largest and most powerful rogue state—a nuclear-armed
      superpower capable of projecting military force to the furthest
      corners of the earth, acting utterly without legal or moral constraint
      whenever the president proclaims it necessary. The idea that striking
      such a posture on the world stage will serve our long-term interests
      is daft. American power has, for decades, rested crucially on the
      sense that the United States can be trusted and relied upon, on the
      belief that we use our power primarily to defend the community of
      liberal states and the liberal rules by which they conduct themselves
      rather than to undermine them.

      An America prepared to casually toss out the most fundamental
      principles of international humanitarian diplomacy—along with basic
      human decency and the rule of law as side helpings—is not a country
      others are going to want to cooperate with. It will constitute a
      threat to their interests and values. Nor will it be a country blessed
      with a lot of accurate intelligence. As Soviet dissident Vladimir
      Bukovsky has pointed out , an intelligence service shot-through with
      demands that it torture people "degenerates into a playground for
      sadists," the service itself "an army of butchers" skilled at
      terrorizing its victims but hardly capable of unraveling complicated

      It's a grim future brought to us by grim and deranged men—by people
      who seem to have developed an unhealthy level of admiration for
      America's enemies. (They want the country they run to transform itself
      into a facsimile of its evil adversaries.) It's a future in which it
      may become increasingly hard for decent citizens of this country to
      say truthfully that they're proud to be Americans.



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