Balkinization  

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Administration backtracks on torture

Sandy Levinson

The news conference yesterday with Alberto Gonzales--incidentally, does anyone seriously think his prospects for nomination to the Supreme Court have not been set back by recent disclosures?--and others was extraordinary in a number of ways. But the press wasn't knowledgeable enough to interrogate Gonzales and the others as fully as they should have. Thus, much was made of the premise that the United States simply doesn't "torture," though, of course, the US adopts a definition of "torture" that is considerably more interrogator-friendly, shall we say, than that set out in the United Nations Convention. As a matter of fact, several of the reporters asked some fairly good questions about what exactly the US means by "torture," though Gonzales was evasive in his answer. More seriously, none of the reporters asked about the American practices of "rendering" people in our custody to other countries where torture is almost certain to take place. Going back to the end of 2002, a number of articles in the mainstream press, including a stunning article in a January 2003 issue of The Economist, have alluded to the practice. It is crystal clear that it violates the UN convention and calls into question the Administration's insistence that it has not in effect accepted torture as a policy. Gonzales might have said, of course, citing the Senate language, that it doesn't violate US policy to "render" prisoners unless we believe that it is "likely" that torture will occur and, of course, we choose to believe assurances by Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco, among others, that torture won't occur. But, of course, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that we're even asking for such assurances or that anyone should believe them.

What is also Orwellian is the insistence that not only does the US not "torture" (given the OLC interpretation of the Senate definition, of course), but that we treat prisoner's "humanely." This is true if and only if one defines "humane treatment" as "not being tortured." But part of the OLC argument, which is altogether correct, is that "merely" "inhuman and degrading" treatment does not necessarily rise to the level of "torture," even under the UN definition. One hopes that reporters will have further opportunities to ask exactly what the United States means by "humane" treatment. It would be especially useful to get such answers from the ostensible person in charge, i.e., George W. Bush, who seems to have played no role in the vigorous debates that Gonzales describes.




Comments:

An interesting take from the BBC draws a comparison to the British in Northern Ireland.

Papers show US torture debate
 

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