Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Congress Sells Out on Torture

The recent “Detainee bill” legalizing torture passed by the US Congress is proof that the Republican Party has completely lost its moral compass. In the process they have driven the United States off a cliff from which the nations’s reputation may never recover. Unfortunately, it is the rest of the world that will pay the greatest price for this fall from grace.

Among various shocking provisions, the bill removed the rights of any in US custody overseas to challenge the legality of their being locked up – leaving them to rot in secret prisons forever. In another charming provision, “unlawful combatants” (also known as “people that can be tortured”) have expanded to include anyone labeled by the executive branch as having “materially supported” hostilities against the US. The President can interpret the “meaning and application” of the Geneva Conventions. And conveniently, the War Crimes act has been rewritten to prevent prosecution for things that would have been a crime in the past. Sorry, folks. No Rumsfeld before the ICC.

America has always had a high (some might feel insuffrable) opinion of its own virtue. Maybe it’s the stylish hats the Pilgrims came over in that gave them such a good opinion of themselves. But once upon a time that opinion was well earned. America’s done plenty of good deeds, and has been a more or less benevolent, if self-absorbed, hegemon. Ben Franklin suggested that, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Whoops.

There was a big bucket of bilgewater dumped on the shining Lamp of Liberty with this bill. Why? The ghost of Lord Acton is cackling loudly right now. Apparently there is no principle that cannot be sacrificed before the Altar of Expediency to keep the ruling Republicans in power. This bill – from the party of Limited Government – was designed to politically tag Democratic opponents as terrorist-lovers. The obliging opposition rolled over and played dead, failing to mount a serious challenge to the bill. Given the egregious unconstitutionality of the new law, it is likely to be overturned soon. As measured in the legal time frame, anyway, which is slightly slower than the geologic. However, the international damage will not be so rapidly rectified. As Joe Nye from down the street compellingly suggests, the soft power to influence by positive attraction is core to American successes of the past and to projects to make the globe over in our image for the future.

The soft hissing sound you hear is the soft power of the United States deflating. America has lost the moral suasion it used to have; all future presidents with a Wilsonian agenda for world peace and cooperation will have the dark blight of this bill staining their efforts. Dictators around the world will be able to point to the horrors of Gitmo and state-sanctioned torture as shields of their own. Wannabe war criminals will be equally inclined to “clarify” the Geneva conventions. Civil liberties around the world have taken a body blow. And for all President Bush’s bloviation about world freedom and democracy, the forced passage of this bill has again shown the world that all that talk is just words. America is attempting to pull down the international norms it has worked for generations to build, and weakened the world in the process.

The Editors (all MALD 07) run this journal and cannot believe that we have to take a position on torture.

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