Monday :: Apr 28, 2008

Above The Law

by Turkana

The story was neither a surprise nor particularly new, but it made explicitly clear that we are now a torture state. The opening paragraph from the New York Times:

The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

Which is a fascinating standard. Because it means, essentially, that "American intelligence operatives" can ignore international law, whenever they so decide; and even if international laws were designed to be so pliable, there's no apparent oversight.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

Rules? What rules? Even Bush's executive order was apparently meaningless. Which should be a shock to no one. No one who is conscious, anyway.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity,” a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

Did I mention that there are no rules? Operatives can make them up on a case-by-case basis; and while the Administration has made the effort to define the acceptability of some forms of torture, as I've previously linked, Jack Balkin and Marty Lederman believe operatives are legally immunized, anyway.

“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

In other words, if they're going to humiliate or abuse people, it can't be for the sheer joy of it, there has to be an excuse. Which can be defined on the spot. As can the degrees of humiliation and abuse. But those are no standards at all.

In the past few decades, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain were among many nations that suffered terrorist attacks, but these standards say those nations can torture whomever they want, whenever they want, as long as it is claimed they are trying to prevent more such attacks. Russia has recently been subject to horrendous terrorist attacks. China can claim there's terrorism in Tibet. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe can claim his political opposition are all terrrorists. Various factions in Iraq can claim that every captured American is a terrorist, because of those little matters of an unprovoked war, permanent occupation, and devastated economy and society. See how this works? Laws don't matter. No rules. Standards made up as we go.

The letters from the Justice Department to Congress were provided by the staff of Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee and had sought more information from the department.

And, of course, Administration spokespeople babble vague gibberish that essentially amounts to: trust us. Wyden gets it: there are no rules, and there's no reason that other nations won't apply the same lack of standards to Americans.

“The cumulative effect in my interpretation is to put American troops at risk,” Mr. Wyden said.

But when has the Administration demonstrated any interest in the well-being of American troops?

Turkana :: 11:10 AM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!