Thought-Factory.net Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion philosophy.com Junk for code
parliament house.gif
RECENT ENTRIES
SEARCH
ARCHIVES
Commentary
Media
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
Cartoons
South Australian Links
Other
www.thought-factory.net
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

plain bad politics « Previous | |Next »
June 9, 2004

I'm afraid that this cartoon does capture the style of Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Minister in the context of this.

CartoonRowe4.jpg
David Rowe

Downer is tactily permitting what most people would consider to be torture. He probably knows that this was done on the basis of the US president's position as commander in chief in wartime. He also knows that the US has been in the torture business for many a long year. But he is a faithful servant of the imperial president, just like this one.

I have to admit that I once thought that Downer was in the process of becoming a good foreign minister---until 9/11 came along. Before that you could say that Downer was growing in the job after his disastrous 15 minutes as Opposition leader. After watching Downer's various performances after 9/11 I think that he is little more than the echo chamber of the Bush Administration's foreign policy.

As a result of his lack of independence of thought Downer has become incapable of seeing the contradiction in the heart of what he is defending. On the one hand, he supports the imperial president's implementation of the neo-con project for democracy in the Middle East. On the other hand, he supports the American desire to throttle a free Arab press--eg., the broadcast network Al Jazeera--- which the Bush administration has accused of inciting anti-American violence in Iraq. Do not a free press and democracy go hand and hand?

Oh, is not torture and democracy also a contradiction? The Washington Post thinks so. What we have is legalizing torture.

Maybe our Foreign Minister is starting to have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy these days?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:55 PM | | Comments (13)
Comments

Comments

Gary:

"What most people consider to be torture" is legally irrelevant. From a legal perspective what matters is the strict definition of torture crafted by the UN Convention on the subject. Article One of begins by stating:

"For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person..."

While some of the more antics of those out-of-contol redneck guards at Abu Ghraib passed the UN's defintional threshold of torture, most of their actions did not. What they did was obnoxious. What the did seemed to be primarily for the purposes of their own sadistic self-gratification. But, still, most of there deeds did not meet the UN's definition of torture.

Does sleep deprivation constitute "severe pain or suffering?" Probably not. Did sexual humiliation constitute severe pain or suffering? Probably not, as well.

These acts do violate the Geneva Conventions. And, the US has declared that they will treat prisoners in Iraq in accordance with the Third 1949 GC Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. That is the legal basis for the criminal prosecution of the Abu Ghraib personnel.

The 3rd GC prohibits any sort of pressure, either mental, emotional or physical, during interrogation. But there is a "grey area" in between the GC's absolute prohibition and the "severe pain or suffering" threshold established by the UN Convention against Torture. By virtue of who they are and the way the fight, Al Qaeda operatives have rendered themselves ineligible for the protections afforded by the 3rd 1949 GC. And, this grey area allows the US military to use more rigorous methods of questioning than the GC allows, as long as they don't reach the "severe pain and suffering" threshold established by the UN Convention Against Torture.

I can almost visualise Gary's rumblings of moral outrage at this point, so let me try to defuse his sanctimony with a few questions.

Gary, it is reasonable to assume that Al Qaeda will try to mount a serious terrorist attack in Australia some time this year. Their success in toppling a conservative government in Madrid and engineering the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq provides them with a clear incentive to try and do the same in Oz.

Now, just suppose that Al Qaeda is in the process of conducting a Madrid-style attack against the public transport system in Sydney or Melbourne. The bombs have been planted, the fuzes are ready to go. All it takes is for the button to be pressed, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent Australian commuters will die.

And, while this operation is underway, one of the Al Qaeda cell is stopped for speeding. He panics, shoots on officer, and is wounded by another and taken into custody. While being questioned by police, this Al Qaeda member lets slip some generalities about the impending events. But he refuses to divulge any information about the location or timing of the attack.

In other words, ASIO and the AFP know that an attack that could cost the lives of hundreds is underway, but they have no detailled information about times, methods or locations.

Now, before you dismiss this as a hypothetical scenario, this is a reality in places like Israel, and very well could become so here in Australia. Also recall that 1993 World Trade Centre planner Ramzi Yussef was arrested in the Phillipines on a similar technicality, and that Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh was arrested by an alert Highway Patrol officer who stopped him for speeding. So, none of this is at all outside the realm of plausibility.

In such a circumstance, what would you do? Would you continue to adhere to your absolute opposition to interrogation under duress? If so, what would you say to the families of the hundreds of innocent victims who would die as a result of your decision?

Or, would you lean on the guy a bit in order to try and save some people's lives?

What would you recommend if one of the perpetrators of the Bali or Madrid had been apprehended 4 hours before the bombs began to explode?

VOS,
you and I can argue about the legal niceties and techicalities all we want. Try this: that in
...obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens normal strictures on torture might not apply. And it endeavoured to assign to the president virtually unlimited authority on matters of torture -- to assert presidential power at its absolute apex.

The political reality is that those images from Aby Ghraib prison do not play well in the Australian electorate.

The ethical response is simple and clear: that treatment is wrong. It should not have happened. We did not go to Iraq do those sort of things.

I linked to an ABC 4 Corners report that spent a lot of its time with parents of what you call 'redneck guards.' Even they saw that these images were of bad behaviour, inhumane and wrong. Unlike you the parents pointed the finger squarely at the US chain of command.

Rightly so. The documents from the administration (reports, testimony, and other documentary evidence) indicate that each of the methods of interrogation was approved and authorized as a way of preparing detainees for interrogations. The reservists were just following orders.

I repeat. Those images do not play well. The government (US and Australian) is seen to have dirty hands on this. So those government officials who defend these actions through various cover ups are seen to be complicit.

That is what is happening in the Australian (and US) electorate.The tide has turned in Iraq. It is flowing out. The US and Australian governments are now in damage control.

Gary, you use sanctimony once again to duck the hard issues. You asseverate that "the ethical response is simple and clear: that treatment is wrong."

But what about the ethics of saving hundreds of innocent lives by putting pressure on one member of a terrorist group bent on mayhem and murder?

Let me pose the question again, in a ticking bomb situation a la Bali or Madrid, would you still stick to your high fallutin' position. And if so, what would you say the the family members of those who were killed because you were unwilling to subject a terrorist asshole to sleep or sensory deprivation?

Moreover, your uncritical acceptance the exculpatory contortions of the relatives of the Abu Ghraib malefactors would be quaintly naive, if it weren't so transparently partisan. You have an axe to grind, and you aren't going to let any facts get in the way.

Gee, the father/mother/cousin/uncles of the people who are about to be charged in this scandal have no bias in this matter, right? They have no incentive to try and spin their account of the scandal so as to diminish their relatives' culpability, correct?

Puleaasse, Gary. Don't be so friggin disingenuous. The fact that the parents "pointed the finger squarely at the US chain of command" proves nothing other than they want to get their kids off the hook. The parents have no real knowledge of what went on at Abu Ghraib other than what their kids tell them. And, even you wouldn't be able to make the argument with a straight face that the people about to be charged don't have an agenda of their own.

This is pure annecdotal, emotive "evidence" that has no factual bearing on the issues of this case. Moreover, the newschick who put together that 4 corners report was guilty of similar agenda-driven disingenuousness. She cites the parts of Tabuga Report that relate the gory details of what happens, but she conveniently neglects to mention Taguba's finding that there were no oral or written orders from the higher echelon directing or mandating this abuse.

Now, I wonder why she decided to exclude THAT element of the Taguba report? Could it be that it would conflict diametrically with the ill-informed speculation of the parents? Could it be the Taguba's finding that there were no orders from higher up might blow out of the water the contention of the parents that the chain of command was to blame?

But, nah... the ABC would never be guilty of that sort of factual manipulation, now would it?

As far as your political analysis/prognostications go, I can tell you from personal experience that four and a half months is an eternity in an election cycle.

"What most people consider to be torture" is legally irrelevant. From a legal perspective what matters is the strict definition of torture crafted by the UN Convention on the subject.'

Before Kristallnacht, Jews in Germany were routinely humiliated... made to wear yellow stars, give up their prestigious jobs to take menial work, barred from marrying Germans etc.

I suppose these acts wouldn't qualify as torture under your strict definition, or the UN Conventions, would they?

Did you see your soulmate Meyrav Wurmser on Lateline the other night, pushing the same shameful barrow?

Her ancestors and yours must be spinning in their graves.

Vos,
the Lateline piece that Glenn refers to is here

Meyrav Wurmser, senior fellow and director for the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute,says that abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were serious abuses but they do not amount to torture.However,she accepted that the Geneva Conventions would regard what was going on at Abu Ghraib prison as torture.

That needed to be put into perspective:

"The United States has been apologising, the President has apologised.This has created a very large political scandal.The United States is going to destroy the jail.There is no question that people are feeling awful about it.That is precisely how a democratic and open society deals with such things."


Try to imagine Wurmser making such a distinction if the inmates tortured had been Jews rather than Muslims. Then try to imagine Vos doing the same.

Not easy is it?

I didn't see the Wurmser appearance on Lateline, but upon reading the transcript she is making eminent sense.

And, Glenn, if Jews were strapping explosives to their bodies and blowing up schools, restaurants and the like, I'd be in favour of using the same tactics on them.

Terrorism is terrorism... deliberately targeting non-combatants is vile, regardless of perpetrator.

'And, Glenn, if Jews were strapping explosives to their bodies and blowing up schools, restaurants and the like, I'd be in favour of using the same tactics on them.'

Sure you would.

Yup, I would, indeed.

You should try to bear in mind, Glenn, that not everyone is as intellectually inconsistent as you are.

Vos,

you write: "I didn't see the Wurmser appearance on Lateline, but upon reading the transcript she is making eminent sense"
Really?
On the one hand X is toture. On the other hand it is not. That is legal evasion.

Let me post some passaages from the Washington Post editorial I linked to above. It addresses such evasions. It says:

"According to copies leaked to several newspapers, they lay out a shocking and immoral set of justifications for torture...the president of the United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose."

I take it that your position is that torture is justified when used to combat terrorism.


I made my position clear, Gary. But, let me reiterate my former post on the issue.

"What most people consider to be torture" is legally irrelevant. From a legal perspective what matters is the strict definition of torture crafted by the UN Convention on the subject. Article One of begins by stating:

"For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person..."

While some of the more antics of those out-of-contol redneck guards at Abu Ghraib passed the UN's defintional threshold of torture, most of their actions did not. What they did was obnoxious. What the did seemed to be primarily for the purposes of their own sadistic self-gratification. But, still, most of there deeds did not meet the UN's definition of torture.

Does sleep deprivation constitute "severe pain or suffering?" Probably not. Did sexual humiliation constitute severe pain or suffering? Probably not, as well.

These acts do violate the Geneva Conventions. And, the US has declared that they will treat prisoners in Iraq in accordance with the Third 1949 GC Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. That is the legal basis for the criminal prosecution of the Abu Ghraib personnel.

The 3rd GC prohibits any sort of pressure, either mental, emotional or physical, during interrogation. But there is a "grey area" in between the GC's absolute prohibition and the "severe pain or suffering" threshold established by the UN Convention against Torture. By virtue of who they are and the way the fight, Al Qaeda operatives have rendered themselves ineligible for the protections afforded by the 3rd 1949 GC. And, this grey area allows the US military to use more rigorous methods of questioning than the GC allows, as long as they don't reach the "severe pain and suffering" threshold established by the UN Convention Against Torture.

I can almost visualise Gary's rumblings of moral outrage at this point, so let me try to defuse his sanctimony with a few questions.

Gary, it is reasonable to assume that Al Qaeda will try to mount a serious terrorist attack in Australia some time this year. Their success in toppling a conservative government in Madrid and engineering the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq provides them with a clear incentive to try and do the same in Oz.

Now, just suppose that Al Qaeda is in the process of conducting a Madrid-style attack against the public transport system in Sydney or Melbourne. The bombs have been planted, the fuzes are ready to go. All it takes is for the button to be pressed, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent Australian commuters will die.

And, while this operation is underway, one of the Al Qaeda cell is stopped for speeding. He panics, shoots on officer, and is wounded by another and taken into custody. While being questioned by police, this Al Qaeda member lets slip some generalities about the impending events. But he refuses to divulge any information about the location or timing of the attack.

In other words, ASIO and the AFP know that an attack that could cost the lives of hundreds is underway, but they have no detailled information about times, methods or locations.

Now, before you dismiss this as a hypothetical scenario, this is a reality in places like Israel, and very well could become so here in Australia. Also recall that 1993 World Trade Centre planner Ramzi Yussef was arrested in the Phillipines on a similar technicality, and that Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh was arrested by an alert Highway Patrol officer who stopped him for speeding. So, none of this is at all outside the realm of plausibility.

In such a circumstance, what would you do? Would you continue to adhere to your absolute opposition to interrogation under duress? If so, what would you say to the families of the hundreds of innocent victims who would die as a result of your decision?

Or, would you lean on the guy a bit in order to try and save some people's lives?

What would you recommend if one of the perpetrators of the Bali or Madrid had been apprehended 4 hours before the bombs began to explode?

'The first trial of the July 20 conspirators before the People's Court took place in Berlin on August 7 and 8 ... Everything had been done to make the accused look as shabby as possible. They were outfitted in nondescript clothes, old coats and sweaters, and they entered the courtroom unshaven, collarless, without neckties and deprived of suspenders and belts to keep their trousers hitched up.
The once proud Field Marshall, especially, looked like a terribly broken, toothless old man. His false teeth had been taken from him and as he stood in the dock, badgered unmercifully by the venomous chief judge, he kept grasping at his trousers to keep them from falling down.

"You dirty old man," Freisler shouted at him, "why do you keep fiddling with your trousers?"

Wiliam L. Shirer
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
1960

Plus ca change...

Eh... Glenn, are you REALLY going to try and draw an analogy between the kangaroo trial of those who conspired to kill Hitler and someone who is trying to save innocent lives from a terrorist attack?

As far as I'm concerned, the Hitler assassination plot was a bit too little, and far too late. These guys were hardly the moral giants some would make them out to be. As long as Adolf was racking up victories, they were more than happy to go along for the ride.

But, I digress.

How on earth are the trials of Stauffenberg, et al, in anyway germaine to the issue at hand?