Thursday, February 14, 2008

You say "potato," I say "it's torture."

In his book "War Law," Michael Byers states:

"Previous administrations at least paid lip-service to the existence of normative constraints by concealing and denying their covert operations. The Bush Administration… lets the mask slip, to the discredit of the nation and… at the peril of the soldiers whom so many of the rules are designed to protect." (page 135)

In light of the Bush Administration's justification of waterboarding as a tactic to be used during interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by the US, this quote rings pretty true. It's almost as if by openly supporting waterboarding the current administration is taking the high road. As if they're saying, "Yes, we know some of you hippie liberals think this is bad. And that all of you Amnesty International folks think this is torture. But we're doing it for your own good and that makes us right. So really, you should be grateful. P.S. -- Watch your back. If we think you're a terrorist, we'll do it to you too."

As so many of us have said all of the time in class and on our blogs, IHL and norms are basically impossible to enforce. We as human beings have to rely on good defeating evil. But what is good and evil now? What if the good guys start doing bad things to win? Terrorism and suicide bombings and assassinations of political leaders begging for reform and genocide and sexual violence are rampant on our beautiful planet.

But is engaging in interrogation tactics like waterboarding, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation for the people who are suspected of perpetrating these crimes justified? Eye for an eye? The crime is violent so we should punish the perpetrators by bringing more violence into the world?

No. No. A thousand times no.

Bush is doing an injustice to the Geneva Conventions by openly flouting them. But by doing so, he's also opening up everyone's eyes to exactly what is going on in the War on Terror. Better to know the evil that exists than to live in blissful ignorance. He would be doing a greater disservice to the Geneva Conventions by sneaking around and breaking the conventions while we all bicker about who the next president will be. At least this way, the international community and concerned citizens of the world can begin to raise their voices in protest.

I want to end this post by sharing another passage from Byers' book. It is hopeful and shares my sentiment that while IHL and norms are so freely broken by world leaders, we have to believe in something. So we may as well believe that all of these hard-to-enforce-norms will one day be adhered to and become enforceable:

"International humanitarian law is, in part, what you and I and the rest of the people on this planet determine it to be. In the lead-up to future wars - and throughout the ongoing occupation of Iraq- we should insist that all countries uphold the strict standards of international humanitarian law, not because it is expedient but because it is right." (page 126)


JBird said...

The GCs and IHL in general are unenforceable, right? Well, maybe. Somewhat akin to economic theory, IHL presumes, to a large degree, that states are rational actors. That states will act in the best interests of their citizens is a presumption. Thus, reciprocity is the enforcement mechanism. States do as they agree because to do otherwise would subject their soldiers and citz to unjust treatment at the hands of other states. Thus, my hope lies in states accepting individuals' inalienable rights. Security goals are great, but we all must all protect ourselves. When the government tramples on a right, we must argue that action. When a fellow human harms us, we fight back. It is the threat of reaction that keeps illegitimate actions at bay.

Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

I wonder if there are any studies that prove the "effectiveness" of torture as a tool for extracting information. When you wrote about how the administration commits torture to "protect" us, it made me wonder if there is any proof that waterboarding actually gets accurate information.

We also spoke a lot in class about how things like torture may actually make us less safe because they encourage violence and create animosity towards the US. It would be interesting to see some kind of "safety" analysis of what the actually effects of torture are, both in terms of information gained and perceptive harm created.