Janet's Conner

This Blog tell the Truth and will never not tell the Truth. Impeach Bush

Thursday, May 18, 2006

NO RULES, JUST MIGHT..............................................................................................

Last Friday, delegates from the United States stood up before the international community and defended their nation's practices on torture. Their inconsistent performance bodes ill for American's efforts to sustain moral and practical leadership in global counterterrorism efforts.

The occasion was the United States' second periodic report to the United Nations' Committee Against Torture. This body was set up by the Convention Against Torture, an international human rights treaty that the United States was pivotal in drafting. Made up of independent experts, the committee's tasks include reviewing reports from countries about complaince with international rules against torture.

American prisons and police stations have never been free of torture. But the administration's counterterrorism policies sparked new problems. Coercive interrogation tactics rising to the level of torture were sanctioned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in late 2002. Such tactics then found systematic use in every theater of conflict to which U.S. forces deployed.

Although a handful of government employees were prosecuted, sentences have been low enough to suggest the administration does not take seriously the ban on torture. More remarkable is who is missing from the dock. No senior official has faced any consequences---professional or legal---for authorizing tactics that could become torture or collapsing legal restrictions that prevented torture.

So it is not surprising that Barry Kowenkron and his State Department colleagues had a tough road to travel. According to unofficial transcripts, Lowenkron began by stating that "United States criminal law prohibited torture: and that there were "no exceptions" to this rule. But American officials insisted that international law does no prohibit "extraordinary rendition"---the transfers to torture of individuals who are captured overseas and shipped to a third country. This is a first large exception.

More troubling, Lowenkron's colleague John Bellinger insisted that situations of war were not covered by the Torture Convention. But this exception entirely swallows the anti-torture rule---at least in the administration's eyes. Since 2002, the administration has been taken the position that international laws that protect against torture during wartime---especially the Geneva Conventions---do not apply to the conflict with al-Qaeda. Indeed, the administration argued that "enemy combatants"---a makeweight category never previously recognized in international law---recive no protection, and have no access to a legal forum to claim innocence or error.

Ad to this administration's position that the battlefield extends beyond Afghanastan and Iraq, to wherever the president believes that terrorists hide, and you get a blanket exception to anti-torture rules wherever the president thinks it necessary.

So much for "no exceptions" to the law against torture.

America's global leadership has long demanded that it take the initiative of human rughts treaties, and in institutions such as the United Nations, which protect human rights. This role means America is subject to special scrutiny from the international community of rights issues. In the past, we have proved willing to alter course away from unwise and immoral policies in response to criticism.

For instance, take that "fixed star" in our constitutional constellation, the First Ammendment's protection against compelled speech. In 1940, William and Lillian Gobitis, two Pennsylvania students, were expelled from school based on their refusal to salute the flag. The Supreme Court affirmed their punishment as consistent with the First Ammendment. Three years later, as battles with Axis armies ranged across European and the Pacific theaters, the Supreme Court povited on its heel. In the landmark case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court concluded that compelled expression could not be squared with the First Amendment.

The result in Barnette was especially surprising because it came at a time of global war and involved a government demand that individuals express their patriotism and loyalty. But pressing on the Justices' minds was the need to distinguish the United States from communist and fascist powers. One amicus brief by community groups (including the Boy and Girl Scouts) noted the similarity between the full-arm flag salute West Virginia demanded and the Nazi salute. And Justice Robert Jackson pointed in his opinion for the Court to "Siberian exiles" as an example of how elimination of dissent soon becomes extermination of dissenters. Constitutional law today without Barnette would be a wholly different landscape.

Potential for international embarrassment also shifted the federal government toward opposing racial segregation. The Unitd Nations' commission on Human Rights had been in place little more than 12 months when it became a stage for American shortfalls in human rights. In October 1947, the NAACP filed a petition, drafted by W.E.B. Dubois, protesting the treatment of African-Americans. The NAACP pointed to the global consequences of America failing to live up to its moral obligations, for if "democracy fails to function in the leading democracy in the world, it fails the world."

In the end, the Commission did not take up the NAACP's proposal. But during the Cold War, the federal government came to play a more active role in pushing back segregation, especially by supporting the NAACP's efforts in the courts. Thus, the NAACP's efforts in the U.N. leveraged international embarrassment into practical change at home.

Whether the same could happen today remains to be seen, given this administration's longstanding disregard for international opinion. But our international reputation matters as much today as it did 60 years ago. America depends on other countries for vital counter-terrorism cooperation. Further, the more America is viewed as a country that operates under the rule of law, the better its chances of persuading potential recruits to terrorism to abandon violence.

Consider, for example, a recent report issued by the United Nations' Secretary General. On April 27, Kofi Annan issued a set of "recommendations for a global-counter-terrorism strategy." This report canvasses U.S. efforts to resist proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons; it documets U.S. efforts to staunch the trade in fraudulent passports used for terrorst travel; and it highlights how U.S. institutions have leveraged expertise gained fighting the drug trade to disrupt terrorist financing flows. All of these are vital counter-terrorism tools---much more than the detention and torture powers the administration zealsouly seeks. None of them are feasible absent international cooperation.

A "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" has long been a cornerstone of American policy and American legal practice. Facing new kinds of terrorist threats, the nation has no reason to abandon efforts, a half century long, to maintain a moral and practical leadership in the globe and in the halls of the United Nations. The weight of America's embarrassing and shameful record on torture impedes the vital goal of persuading other countries that fighting al-Qaeda and its allies ought to be a global priority. AND THE SOONER WE MAKE A CLEAR BREAK WITH TORTURE THE SAFER WE WILL BE.

Source: Tom Paine
Common Sense
May 12, 2006


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