2005/12/09

Tortures and wording

Curious story on this NY Times article: I saw a link to it from the Huffington Post, read a good chunk of it and resolved to return to it later. A few hours later, I fruitlessly looked for it. A day later, I saw that it was restored after a correction had been added. I had imagined Karl Rove getting on the phone to the NY Times' editors and making all sorts of mafioso-type threats. I still think Karl routinely does that sort of thing and yes, I realize that presumption on my part is far more an insult to the Times than it is to Rove.

Seems Secretary of State Rice is having a hard time persuading Europeans that no, the US does not torture captured persons. Earlier, Maureen Dowd had quoted Rice saying: "The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees." She then commented that: "It all depends what you mean by 'authorize,' 'condone,' 'torture,' and 'detainees.'" Liberals never felt strongly about Bill Clinton as a person (Probably because NAFTA was a big, early priority of his), so we have no problem describing such careful wording on Rice's part as "Clintonian parsing".

Rice made an "...impassioned argument for aggressive intelligence gathering, within the law, as an indispensable means of saving lives endangered by an unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe." My problem with this statement begins with Rice's phrase "within the law". If she meant the Geneva Conventions, why not say that? Why not be specific? Why use the vaguer, less precise "law" unless the Bush Administration means to apply a less stringent standard? Article VI of the Constitution specifies that "Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land" meaning the Geneva Conventions are just as much "the law" as are any of the laws in the US Code. Yet, Rice chose not to use that wording. We might also remember that the Torture Memo that our current Attorney General authored has never been formally repudiated by any member of the Bush Administration. This memo made what I and many, many others have regarded as grossly excessive claims as to the authority of the Commander-in-Chief in wartime.

Is al Qaeda an "unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe"? Unscrupulous, yes. Dangerous? I seriously doubt the danger posed by al Qaeda is any greater than that posed to Italy by the Red Brigades or to Germany by the Baader-Meinhof Gang back in the 1970s. Hitting the World Trade Center back in 2001 was a one-time-lucky event that very clearly owed just as much to Bush Administration incompetence, negligence and dereliction of duty as it did to any brilliance on Osama bin Laden's part. In fact, there are those who theorize that September 11th owed more to the Bush Administration than to al Qaeda. Those questions are still, four years later, far from satisfactorily answered. Can we accept that al Qaeda is such a dangerous threat that overturning the Geneva Conventions are necessary? No.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg claims that the US "..does obey international law" which, as I've pointed out, is nowhere in evidence. Being a person who works for the German Chancellor though, it's not at all surprising that he'd say this.

I was partcularly impressed by paragraphs like this:

Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they ''will be'' tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they ''may be'' tortured in those countries.

And of course:

Others pointed out that the Bush administration's definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding -- in which prisoners are strapped to a board and made to believe they are about to be drowned -- that violate provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.

How anyone can believe the Bush Administration is against torture when the very definition of the term is left as vague and fuzzy as it is, is something that absolutely amazes me.

In another article, UN Ambassador John Bolton criticizes the Canadian United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour:

Arbour warned Wednesday the global ban on torture is becoming a casualty of the "war on terror," singling out reported U.S. practices of sending terrorist suspects to other countries and holding prisoners in secret detention.

Her comments sparked an immediate rebuke from Bolton, who said it was "inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric left no doubt about the secretary general's support for Arbour when asked if Annan believed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was out of line for criticizing practices reported used by the United States.

To assert that the UN human rights chief is making serious charges based on nothing more than news clippings is both insulting and unlikely in the extreme. As the "War on Terror" (WOT) is billed as an endless, borderless conflict where there will never be a true victory, it's difficult to see how human rights can be put aside until that war ends. If now is not the time and Arbour is not the person to criticize the US for excesses in the WOT, then when will those excesses ever be criticized? Obviously, if Bolton (and by extension, the Bush Admnistration) had his way, such criticism would never take place.

No comments: