Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wink winkery

In Britain, the Law Lords (the highest court) rule that evidence elicited by torture in other countries may not be used in court.

Back here in torture central, various sources explain how every word spoken by Condi about torture this week has been exquisitely polished by State Dept lawyers to mean either nothing or the exact opposite of what it’s meant to sound like. Eric Umansky in Today’s Papers points out that her statement
As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States obligations under the [Convention Against Torture], which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States
is undercut by the Bush legal position that there are in fact no legal obligations not to torture foreigners unless they are held in the US. So they would abide by their obligations, but claim there are no obligations.

Also (and forgive the lack of links; I had assumed someone would collect all the Condi-parsings in one place, but no one has), the NYT yesterday noted that when she said the US doesn’t send prisoners to countries where they “will be tortured,” that only excludes rendition when we absolutely, positively know that they will be tortured, not that they may be, or probably will be. I believe in lawyer’s parlance, that’s called a “wink wink.” A couple of days ago, she said that the US didn’t transport prisoners “for the purpose” of torture, more wink winkery. (I just made that up. I like it.) And of course without a working definition of “torture,” no statement rejecting the practice of torture has any real-world meaning.

And someone in the Guardian, um, or the Independent, sorry again, focused on her use of the word “policy” – for example, her statement above began with the phrase “As a matter of U.S. policy...” – which is another loophole, since policies have exceptions and are a matter of presidential will (that is, they can be changed at any time); “policy” is not an iron-clad promise: she wouldn’t have used the phrase if it were. To the extent that gullible news media, and gullible congresscritters like Carl Levin, believe that some sort of change has taken place, her oh so carefully chosen words have done what they were intended to do, get critics off the Bushies’ backs. If she had really intended to rule out the use of torture, her words would not have needed to be carefully chosen.

There is perhaps a limit to gullibility among those who characterize Rice’s words as a “reversal of policy”: I’ve heard no one say that they believe that any of the practices – kidnappings in foreign countries, secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, torture by American interrogators, torture by foreign interrogators – will actually be altered, that a decision was made this week by the Bush admin to stop doing any of the things it’s been doing.

If you’re wondering about the statement by UN high commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour which provoked John Bolton to object “I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we’re engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers,” here it is. Oddly, she doesn’t mention the US specifically. Wonder how he knew she meant us?

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