Thursday, June 17, 2004

Ain't the cheeriest news I've heard in a while...

Is it just me (yes, that's a rhetorical question) or is this news I hear about torture in "the war on terror" REALLY OMINOUS news? Here's the red-hot quote from a Pentagon legal report that many are discussing:

"In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, ... the prohibition against torture [in the 1994 criminal statute] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority. ... [Even if an interrogator] "knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent [to be guilty of torture].... Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering."

draft of "Working Group Report" (PDF) (March 6, 2003), as cited in "The Torture Memos", Stuart Taylor, Jr. (National Journal, 14 June 2004)

In other words, these Pentagon lawyers have determined (tentatively?) that it is valid for PResident Bush to override the criminal strictures against torture. And by "torture" they mean torture. The problem with this is that such high-handed draconianism flatly violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As Stuart Taylor, Jr., explains,

"In other words, [this] empowers the president to give blanket authorization for yanking fingernails, branding prisoners' genitals with red-hot pokers, or holding suspects under water almost to the point of drowning. He may do this despite the unambiguous prohibitions both in a Senate-ratified treaty signed by the Reagan administration and in congressionally adopted implementing legislation that President Clinton signed in 1994. And Bush's (hypothetical) approval of such torture need not even be specific to a particularly important detainee such as Zarqawi; he could, the report implies, authorize torture of all suspected enemy combatants." (op. cit., emphasis not in original)

This is outrageous. War is war. Yeah, right. We make war what it is. "Is" is rarely an independent justification for what should be. But flagrant torture of merely suspected criminials is unjust.

I can only hope this is not the whole story; that this was merely one of countless wacky federal reports that has gotten more press than any other; that Bush is not, despite all appearances, literally taking up the weapons of authoritarian domination in his self-appointed war on terror. With behavior like this, is it any wonder the USA has a difficult time getting international backers in this escapade? We ignored the global consensus when we stormed into Iraq, and now we're doing the same as we scour the earth.

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