Extenuating Circumstances

In the post I reference below, Glenn Greenwald updates:

While those who argue that the U.S. was right to torture because it's the U.S. that did it are expressing a repugnant form of exceptionalism, at least they're being honest -- far more so than those who argue that Bush officials shouldn't be investigated or prosecuted while paying deceitful lip service to "the rule of law" and the idea that "no one is above the law."

True enough, but the argument, while honest, still undermines the idea of an international treaty to prohibit torture. Consider Cuba, where it is argued that the US embargo and the full throated hostility of the most powerful nation on Earth, justifies its repressive policies:

This report shows that Cuba's treatment of political prisoners in some cases rises to the level of torture, violating Cuba's obligations under the Convention against Torture and under the Universal Declaration.7 The convention bars torture and "acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and the Universal Declaration states that "no one shall be subjected to torture." 8 Cuba's imposition of prolonged periods of incommunicado pretrial and post-conviction detention, beatings, and prosecutions of previously-tried political prisonersówhere those practices result in severe physical or psychological pain orsufferingóconstitute torture under the convention.9 Cuba also has failed to comply with its obligations under the convention to "take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction" and to "ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law."

Every war criminal or torturer can "justify" the abuse they engage in. As always, it is critical to remember the words of Justice Brandeis:

[I]t is . . . immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement. Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

. . . [I]f this court should permit the government, by means of its officers' crimes, to effect its purpose of punishing the defendants, there would seem to be present all the elements of a ratification. If so, the government itself would become a lawbreaker.

Will this court, by sustaining the judgment below, sanction such conduct on the part of the executive? The governing principle has long been settled. It is that a court will not redress a wrong when he who invokes its aid has unclean hands. . . . Where the government is the actor, the reasons for applying it are even more persuasive. Where the remedies invoked are those of the criminal law, the reasons are compelling.

. . . Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means-to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal-would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.

Speaking for me only

< AP: Obama Team Debating Violating UN Convention On Torture | Why The Torture Issue Can't Be Swept Under The Rug, Part II >
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  • Display: Sort:
    Why is Cuba the pariah? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Chatham on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:56:19 AM EST
    I wonder why Cuba seems to be treated like a pariah when I don't see it doing much worse than, say, Jordan.  Sure, some defend Castro on the left, but he is generally disliked by the US public.  King Abdullah II is seen as a great friend of the US and even makes cameos on US TV shows.

    They kicked out the Mafia. (none / 0) (#6)
    by Edger on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:57:59 AM EST
    Indeed (none / 0) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:01:05 AM EST
    They are all pariahs in my mind. I choose Cuba precisely because it is a pariah to most torture enablers.

    Fair Enough (none / 0) (#11)
    by Chatham on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:26:47 AM EST
    I just hope that people take a deeper and broader (looking at many different countries, even the ones portrayed in the media as "good") look at these issues in general.  But this is tangental to your point, so I'll stop now.

    I think Cuba is worse (none / 0) (#8)
    by andgarden on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:06:24 AM EST
    than Jordan. I think Saudi Arabia would be a better example.

    Not from what I've read (none / 0) (#9)
    by Chatham on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:19:24 AM EST
    Jordan isn't good, it's (none / 0) (#10)
    by andgarden on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:23:01 AM EST
    just better than some of its neighbors. Would you like to be arrested in Syria?

    You'll notice I wasn't comparing it to Syria (none / 0) (#14)
    by Chatham on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:16:42 PM EST
    I was comparing it to Cuba, and asking why one is treated like a pariah while the other is treated like a good friend.  I'm sure that there are countries worse than both of them; I'm also sure the governments of both countries have done some good things in the past. I'm not sure that justifies what they do.

    And if we had accepted (1.00 / 1) (#1)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:00:38 AM EST
    Soviet missiles in Cuba, then Cuba would have loved us??

    You ignore the fact that nations and governments act in their self interest. It was in the interest of Castro to have an enemy. It definitely was not in our interest to allow Soviet missiles in Cuba.

    But even if we had, after preventing the installation of the missiles, what would have Castro demanded for "peace?" And after we failed to meet what would have been ever more outrageous demands, we would have been "the enemy" and Castro would have done what he pleased because he is a Communist, and he acted like all other Communist governments.

    Nonsensical nonsequitor (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:02:41 AM EST
    Don't worry (none / 0) (#3)
    by SOS on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:46:37 AM EST
    The U.S.A. is still the most (broke-bankrupt)  powerful Nation on Earth with our some 3000 Intercontinental Nuclear Missiles on 24/7 standby.

    And I don't (none / 0) (#4)
    by SOS on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 10:49:53 AM EST
    doubt our Government would be crazy enough to use them if it really came down to the wire.

    Good Luck!


    No such thing (none / 0) (#12)
    by mmc9431 on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:35:09 AM EST
    Every generation feels that they're the exception or have extenuating circumstances. Yet, up till now, the Constitution and our basic human values have withstood the test of time. As a nation, we have never condoned torture, what is so extenuating about these times?

    And how are we going to deal with the thousands of future terrorists that these actions may create? A generation of Muslems are growing up reading about our "enhanced interrogations" and seeing the pictures of Abu Grah. We're just adding fuel to the fire.

    I think the convention agrees with you (none / 0) (#13)
    by andgarden on Sun Jan 18, 2009 at 11:36:50 AM EST
    Torture treaty? (none / 0) (#15)
    by diogenes on Mon Jan 19, 2009 at 06:49:01 PM EST
    A treaty needs to be universally agreed on with a universally agreed upon enforcement mechanism to be any good.  If thirty countries signed and considered themselves bound by a treaty banning poison gas, then they'd be screwed in the event of a real war.
    If someone in China tortures someone, please tell me how this treaty will extradite them to the international court of justice?