Great Leap Forward

Barack Obama yesterday ordered the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and CIA secret prisons, closing the book on the Bush administration’s controversial “war on terror” policies. (Financial Times)

Thank you for restoring dignity to the United States, President Obama.

He is striking the right notes in my book – banning torture, closing Guantanamo Bay, capping the salaries of White House staff to $100K (unlike a certain disappointing someone when he was elected in 2007)

A great leap forward, or a just return to order? Either way, fabulous news. Cheers to GOOD news, for once.

Lifting the Taboo on Torture

“President Bush vetoed an intelligence bill Saturday, saying he objected to provisions in it that prohibited the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques. The bill would limit the CIA to techniques approved by the Army field manual.”NPR – All Things Considered

Our national security strategy cannot rely on dehumanizing others – America cannot preserve its security by whatever means necessary. Even though President Bush uses euphemisms such as “harsh interrogation techniques” instead of “torture”, the result is the same – these techniques represent blatant violations of human rights. The fact that there is a movement towards making torture an acceptable practice is extremely dangerous – can we really afford to have this type of paradigmic shift on torture?

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits, and in fact seeks to abolish the use of torture in all its forms, was ratified by the United States in 1994. Moreover, there are certain norms in international law that fall under the jus cogens category, which means that they apply to all subjects of international law, regardless of the status of ratification of treaties or conventions. The prohibition of torture falls under that category. This type of peremptory norm exists in the case of torture, slavery and genocide. Indeed, the international community – including the United States – recognizes that torture, in all its forms, is perfectly indefensible, whether morally or legally.

While torture might be efficient in obtaining information, it is even more efficient in reinforcing hatred towards those who perpetrate it. Not only does this kind of position reinforce pre-existing hatred, but this is precisely the platform used by extremists to recruit. While I am not suggesting that prisoners should not be suggested to interrogation, I believe that this can be achieved without stooping to the same level of dehumanization and complete disregard for human rights at which terrorists and extremists operate.

If we don’t abide by a minimum standard of respect for human life, then we surely cannot expect others to do so. If the use of torture is appropriate for our national security strategy, than surely it is an appropriate strategy for others as well. The world is watching. If we do not uphold fundamental values – including respect for human rights and prisoner rights – then we are implicitly allowing that same attitude from others.

Dangerous times indeed.