Tuesday, May 15, 2007

why i won't support america's mayor

This evening the Republican presidential candidates held their second televised debate. I suppose I should acknowledge that although I haven't settled on a candidate myself (I like to give them all a chance to persuade me), I'm highly unlikely to vote Republican. There are things about each of the ten Republican contenders that give me pause, although Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) probably is the least offensive. Of course, he has no chance of winning the primary.

A development that has surprised me has been the extent to which Rudy Giuliani, perhaps more than any of the other Republican candidates, worries me. He worries me in part because I think he can win the election. Even more so, he worries me because he shows so little regard for the rule of law. Before this campaign, my understanding of Giuliani was that he was, by Republican standards, a moderate -- someone who would have appeal to some conservative-leaning Democrats. And maybe that's true; he does (sort of) support a woman's right to an abortion, for example.

Giuliani said something in tonight's debate that troubles me. I don't remember exactly what Brit Hume's question was -- it was a clownishly absurd question, because it asked the candidates to imagine a scenario that would almost certainly never occur -- but he asked Giuliani if he would support waterboarding and other "interrogation" techniques that the Justice Department defines as torture. Giuliani's response: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Presumably, "every method they can think of" would include waterboarding and other forms of torture. This, of course, would be a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and, consequently, of U.S. law.

This isn't the first time Giuliani has endorsed going outside the law in the name of national security. He has said he would support suspending habeas corpus -- a Constitutionally guaranteed right -- for U.S. citizens in the so-called war on terrorism, but promised to do this sparingly. So, he promises to break the law only occasionally. Do you trust him to define "sparingly" in whatever way he wants? I don't. That's why we have laws, and that's why we require the President (in theory) to abide by those laws. Richard Nixon's famous defense -- "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal" -- doesn't fly with me.

This should be an obvious point, but based on the applause Giuliani's comment generated at the debate, I don't think it is: the President of the United States should obey the laws of this country. We are a nation of laws, as the cliche goes. In this election cycle, I will support a candidate who pledges to defend our nation's Constitution, especially after eight years of Bush administration attacks on this founding document. The U.S. Constitution should not be treated by the President as some sort of inconvenient hindrance to our security or to his own political agenda; rather, it should be seen as the very basis of what makes this country free and secure. So, attention candidates: if you want my vote, convince me that you'll defend the Constitution. All of it.


Radiant Times said...

About our letter to the Ford Company:

Jim, my husband and I wrote this together. We are quite disappointed with the American Auto Industry, but if they were to actually take the needs of the American people into account, they could pull themselves out of the mud.

Hmmmm....someone from the Chicago area was looking at my blog earlier.....maybe it was Obama!!! :-D

Jim said...

I agree with you, that it's not too late for the American auto industry to make a comeback. But it won't happen until they become more forward-thinking: making more hybrid models, improving fuel efficiency, making safer cars, improving quality, etc. But I honestly think there's reason for optimism, that Ford and GM can complete in the global marketplace and keep their jobs here in the U.S.

And who knows what Obama reads on the Web, although I doubt he spends much time in Chicago these days. He is pretty Web-savvy, though, as politicians go.

Radiant Times said...

I totally agree, Jim. The American auto industry is way behind the curve. They have to choose who their most important customers are, though.....the rich guys and wannabees who are willing to go into major hock to get a honking SUV, or the regular environmentally conscious middle to lower income person who is voting with their feet at the Toyota dealership. I would be much happier buying an American product if such a viable product existed.

Jim said...

It's funny that the vehicle most in demand in the United States for several years running is the Toyota Prius (I know someone who had to wait 10 months just to get a new one from the dealership), yet U.S. auto manufacturers have been painfully slow on the uptake. Makes me wonder if the cozy relationship between auto manufacturers and the oil industry might be a factor. Anyway, keep up the pressure on this issue. It's an important one for both the environment and the U.S. economy.

Lord Nazh said...

"This, of course, would be a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions"

Jim, you'll have to look for the relevant portions of the Geneva Conventions to prove that point :)

But point in fact, all the candidates had the same position on the 'ticking time-bomb' situation. Some used different words (McCain) but later said they would support it.

Would you not support water-boarding someone in that situation? Why not? Is the lives of hundreds to thousands of your fellow Americans not worth the discomfort one person would feel over that?

Remember, water-boarding doesn't actually hurt someone, the definition of torture has come along way from when it was actual physical harm (see McCain again).

Thanks for the visit, thought I'd stop by :)

Jim said...

Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions refers to minimum standards of treatment during an armed conflict or military occupation. It prohibits “[v]iolence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners-of-war (Geneva III, arts. 17 & 87) or protected persons (Geneva IV, art. 32) are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes.

Interrogation practices previously used by the U.S., including waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, induced hypothermia, stress positions, shaking and sensory deprivation and overload, are prohibited by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. These are clearly forms of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment. This understanding is supported by Sen. John McCain’s statement on the floor of the Senate (09/28): “...The categories included in this section will criminalize certain interrogation techniques, like waterboarding and other techniques that cause serious pain or suffering that need not be prolonged.”

Waterboarding and other forms of torture have not been proven to be effective ways of extracting information from prisoners. These methods are immoral, and they are illegal. That is why Brit Hume's question is inherently spurious--it assumes that the best way to get information from prisoners is to torture them. This assumption has been proven by numerous investigators to be false. Further, Hume asked the candidates to imagine a situation in which investigators knew for a fact that the prisoner(s) had information that would save thousands of lives--a situation that would almost certainly never arise. So no, I do not accept your formulation.

The definition of torture has indeed "come a long way." And that is a good thing. I'm not interested in changing it.

Jim said...

By the way, here's what McCain said in the debate: "We could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people. When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we went -- underwent torture ourselves, is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them. It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know."

I wouldn't call that an endorsement of waterboarding, especially in light of McCain's earlier statements about waterboarding. Would you?

Lord Nazh said...

Yes I would Jim, as I said, he explained his statements later and did indeed endorse it just as the others did.

Article 3 refers to prisoners of war, civilians and enemy combantants.

The conventions also state who is what in detail. Terrorists don't seem to fit any of the descriptions. Plus the fact that the Geneva conventions are in place to police conduct between 'signees' of which Al-Qaeda is not (neither is Iraq).

You base your opinion on the fact that the situation can 'almost certainly never arise'. Isn't that what hypothetical means? Imagining a situation that isn't happening. Because IT CAN arise, then it is imaginable.

I asked a specific question to you, would you prefer to spend those thousands of lives or waterboard the terrorist.

I've read some of your blog (of course not all) and I have not yet seen a serious post of yours (and there may be one I just havn't seen) that complains about the REAL torture that happens to our soldiers if/when they are captured, not any posts on the torture of Iraqis that the terrorists do daily, not a post complaining about the suicide bombings of civilians or the car-bombings of market places.

Yes torture is real and it kills. But you'd be hard pressed to tell me that you'd rather see thousands of people die so you wouldn't have to water-board a terrorist.

Jim said...

As I said in my earlier comment, I have never seen any convincing evidence that waterboarding is an effective means of extracting information from prisoners. As McCain pointed out, "The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know."

So, if you insist on an answer to your (and Brit Hume's) ridiculous question, if I KNEW the terrorist had information that would save thousands of lives, and if I KNEW that waterboarding a terrorist was the only way to get that information, I'd have to consider waterboarding. But how would you ever know that waterboarding was the only way to get the information, and how would you know that the prisoner in question had the information? You wouldn't. So you'd always be taking a risk--you'd risk compromising what I consider core American values, not to mention world opinion, for the sake of possibly saving lives in the short term, but also maybe not, with the possibility of costing more lives in the long term. The risk is too great.

I don't need to spend precious hours of my life condemning terrorist attacks. Hardly anybody reads my blog, and anyone who thinks I would condone terrorism or look the other way is too blinded by ideology to convince anyway. I'm not running for office, so I don't need to shore up the "stupid" vote. It ought to go without saying that if I think waterboarding is wrong, I think it's even worse to blow someone's limbs off with an IUD, or to bomb civilians in a marketplace. Only a person totally blinded by ideology would assume that if I don't mention it in my blog, I must think it's OK. I focus on the behavior of the U.S. government because I am an American.

Jim said...

You'll also probably notice this isn't even primarily a political blog. I'm interested not only in politics, but also sports, literature, issues of gender and masculinity, American history, music, and a variety of other topics. So, for example, I haven't talked at all about the NSA wiretapping situation. That doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about it.

Jim said...

It's interesting that you're saying that the Geneva Conventions apply to "enemy combatants," but that terrorists don't fit into that category because they're not enemy combatants. Meanwhile, the U.S. government justifies the imprisonment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay because they are "enemy combatants." It seems that these definitions become flexible according to what the U.S. government wants to do with them. There is no legal precedent for this.

Lord Nazh said...

Taking a break (as you saw on my site)...

the Geneva Conventions does not apply to TERRORISTS, which the US defines as unlawful enemy combatants for sake of a definition.

I'll try to stop through on my rounds, but probably won't be commenting much, later.

Jim said...

Again, I see no legal precedent, in the Geneva Conventions or anywhere else, for torturing people. I see no legal precedent for these ever-shifting definitions of "enemy combatants," lawful or not. The reason people are tortured is not to extract information, as most experienced interrogators know, because it is ineffective. The reason people are tortured is to satisfy the emotional need of the torturer -- for the sake of retribution, or just plain sadism. That's why it is illegal. Signing the Geneva Conventions is a way for the U.S. to be part of a community of nations that has agreed to treat prisoners of war humanely. Nowhere does it say, "unless the aforementioned prisoner is a terrorist."

Jim said...

I just looked at the post-debate interview with McCain, and it's hard for me to see how anyone could take what he said as an endorsement of waterboarding. In the interview he explicitly says that the divide over waterboarding within GOP ranks is the divide between those who have served in the military and those who haven't. (Certainly a debatable point, but that's what he said.) That sounds to me like an explicit condemnation of waterboarding.