While America Slept


The South Carolina debate in which a large majority of Republicans supported interrogation methods that clearly violate the UN Convention on torture, the Geneva Convention, U.S. law, and the long and honorable history of American warfare has had one benefit. It has flushed out the position of bloggers like Tom Maguire and their passive-aggressive supporters: the anti-anti-torture crowd. Greg Dejerejian has a must-read piece on the subject from a realist conservative position that really deserves a read. As Greg explains, the press needs to ask clear, specific questions - not just of the candidates, but of this president. Bush has refused to be candid about this, using carefully parsed phrases which no democratic polity should be satisfied with. If the U.S. is to continue its evolution into a torturing rogue state, then it must do so with eyes open and the consequences clear. My own essay on the incompatibility of torture with any sort of liberal democracy can be read here. Money quote from Greg:

Look, if we're going to have this debate, let's have it, but let's have it honestly. Let's not hide behind Orwellian fudging and obfuscatory verbiage. Reporters need to ask the serious candidates, which is to say, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwardsare you in favor of allowing the use of sleep deprivation, induced hypothermia and water-boarding by agencies of the U.S. Government? Under a current reading of Article III of the Geneva Convention and Common Article Three, do you believe these techniques violate either of them, in the context of the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution? If no, explain how they don't, and let us judge the persuasiveness of the defenses of the pro-torture right, but in front of the entire nation and world.

Meantime, let the Democratic candidates (and perhaps John McCain) explain how these techniques do violate these basic international human rights standards. And then let us see whether the Republican Party can win the 2008 election on the basis of fear, on the basis of a platform that allows for freezing people to the point their life is imperiled, or inducing the feeling in detainees they are drowning to death, or depriving them of sleep for such protracted periods that long term deleterious mental health impacts may result. Yes, let us debate these issues, but clearly and out in the open.

To the press corps, I say, the next time a Presidential candidate says "I'm not for torture, only enhanced interrogation techniques", ask them whether induced hypothermia, sleep deprivation and water-boarding are torture? Then remind them of our treaty obligations under CAT. Ask them whether they think the "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be acceptable pursuant to Article III of the Geneva Convention? Do they wish to repudiate them? Or do they think we can do these things and not run afoul of these standards? Again, how? What will become increasingly clear is that leading Republican candidates are running on a platform that has us repudiating our treaty obligations and watering-down our constitutional standards.

So the American people will have a choice: are we to slide towards rogue nation status on such issues, or repudiate the profoundly damaging legacy of the last 6 years and regain the mantle of leading avatar of human rights in the international arena? I hope and trust Abraham Lincoln’s 'better angels' of human nature will prevail in this great country, and no major political party will be voted into power that is in favor of authorizing the use of techniques--by any instrumentality of the US Government - that constitute torture under internationally recognized norms.

(Photo: the single inmate tortured to death by U.S. servicemembers in Abu Ghraib prison under the command of president George W. Bush.)