Monday, November 07, 2005

Torture

The following statement: "America is the only country in the world that asserts a legal right to engage in cruel and inhumane treatment." - McCain

One other point on this, is that asserting a legal right to do such a thing is/would be actually a step forward. There are no laws against torture being applied to non-POW, non-US citizens outside of the US. I'm glad McCain is pushing this issue. It is something that absolutely must be discussed now that the stakes have dramatically changed. There are a lot of constitutional issues which have had judgements deferred because they really weren't an issue before, and judges generally despise setting new precedent without extremely important grounds. Well now we have those very important grounds.
One case involved in this is a drug dealer who was captured on US soil, and FBI agents then participated in a raid in mexico which siezed evidence of his guilt. His argument is that the FBI did not have a US warrant to search his domocile in Mexico, even though their mexican partners did have a mexican warrant.
Precedent here is pretty murky and far between, because for the bulk of US history, we haven't been able to just get up and go to another country.

This filters back to the GWOT in the question of what actually are the limits to which the CIA or other governmental agencies can go when they are operating outside of the US and against illegal enemy combatants? How limited *should* they be?

The current situation is unacceptable. Our soldiers in gitmo are *required* to wear gloves when handling copies of the Koran, because we agree with the militants that US soldiers are too unclean to be allowed to touch a Koran. On the other side, we have military interrogators using techniques of fear (dogs, temptation, etc) to ellicit intelligence from captives.

One discussion I had with a friend here devolved into a discussion of whether torture *can* tell us anything of value. My opinion was that yes, it could, but we probably don't want to pay the price it would exact upon our people and our country. His opinion was that you can't get anything out of torture because when tortured, people will tell you whatever you want to hear. True enough, but among those things told to the interrogator under duress will probably be some elements of truth.

On a related note, I will never say "torture is always wrong", simply for the fact that there are too many different opinions of what constitutes torture. Some people believe screaming epiteths at someone, or insulting their culture or religion is torture. You won't ever get me to agree with that.

[Addendum]
The problem with the quoted statement is that no country has ever legitimately asserted the right to treat prisoners in a fashion considered to be 'inhumane'. Every country which openly practices torture blatantly pretends such crimes do not exist. This does not advocate inhumane treatment of prisoners, but were a democracy to properly adopt laws allowing torture, assuming this does not hamper the peoples' ability to repeal same law at another time, is not just legitimate, but it's the definition of legitimacy.
Real power comes from the people. If the people want torture to be used in certain circumstances, there is nobody in the world with the 'moral authority' to deny it.
What *is* sacrosanct in a democracy, is the ability for the people to freely choose their government through referendum. Anything else is sacrosanct only in the case where it enables the former.
Perhaps it's the case that any society enlightened enough to make democracy sacrosanct, will also be enlightened enough to outlaw torture, but it's not a fundamental principle of democracy.

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