Sunday, August 30, 2009

Illegal, At Least

On ABC's This Week on Sunday, host George Stephanopoulos asked of his "roundtable" about "the information we gleaned from all this and whether it was worth the interrogations we conducted." Regular panelist George F. Will responded:

We ought to have a commission. Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post suggests this morning- Sarah Day O'Connor and David Souter- bring them down, set it up, and answer some factual questions. For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed was reticent; he was waterboarded 183 times and became locquacious. Did it have something to do with that and was he useful? Because whether or not these techniques are immoral and how immoral they are surely depends on whether or not they worked.

This is quite a linguistic sleight of hand. If in fact morality is to be fused with effectiveness (as he argues in the last sentence), it cannot be detached from legality.

And no commission is needed to determine legality. It is prohibited by the Geneva Convention. The Army Field Manual. United States Code Title 18.2340A. The U.N. Convention Against Torture. Odd, isn't it, that Will would suggest a commission featuring two former Supreme Court Justices- not to determine legality, but morality and effectiveness of torture, which would seem outside of their area of expertise.

But Will is thoughtful and open-minded compared to one of the other panel members, Liz Cheney, who claimed "waterboarding isn't torture and we can go down that path." (See it at approximately 3:40 of the video from This Week.) She did not do so, presumably because she is probably aware it is torture, defined in the U.S. Criminal Code as

an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Cheney went on to contend that these extreme interrogation tactics were thoroughly effective. Here, Glenn Greenwald argues effectively that the Inspector General's report concludes no such thing.

But it shouldn't even get that far. The tactics are clearly torture and torture is clearly illegal by international law and U.S. law. And as Greenwald notes,

If we want to be a country that uses torture, then we should repeal our laws which criminalize it, withdraw from treaties which ban it, and announce to the world (not that they don't already know) that, as a country, we believe torture is justifiable and just. Let's at least be honest about what we are. Let's explicitly repudiate Ronald Reagan's affirmation that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture" and that "[e]ach State Party is required [] to prosecute torturers."

If the right took that position, it would at least be principled and honest. And they would be demonstrating a little courage, instead of cowardly hiding behind claims they know are completely without merit.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Yes, the claim that the morality of techniques is partly dependent on their effectiveness is wrong. Torture was banned not entirely because it was ineffective, but largely because it was brutal.

Pundits and politicians can't have it both ways and say "it wasn't torture" and then argue that if they are effective then they should be used. This second argument undoes the first argument.

Those in favor of these techniques should argue for a change in the language of law to be more specific to defining torture.

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