Strong opinions, weakly held

Seeking clarity on torture

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has tried to justify its requests for Congressional authorization to torture prisoners by saying that the language of the treaties by which we are already bound is overly vague. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley went on TV and said, “I’m saying that nobody knows what humiliating treatment is. What does it mean?”

In a press conference, President Bush said, “And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation.”

These guys must really hate our legal system, which must also be too vague for their tastes. Here’s a bit of the jury instruction in US criminal cases:

So the presumption of innocence alone is sufficient to acquit the defendant, unless the jurors are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case.

In fact, reading the entire burden of proof article in Wikipedia is instructive. How do we manage to run a legal system built upon language so vague and open to interpretation?

In other news, Marty Lederman says the Senate compromise on the torture, war crimes, and military tribunals legislation is an utter capitulation. Discouraging, but not surprising.


  1. If G W Bush was forced into uncomfortable positions, stripped naked, made into a human flesh pyramid and peed on, I’m sure he’d agree on what what at least constitutes as non-dignified and humiliating treatment.

    What is sad to me is that one nation seems to be so willing to cast people into two camps “us” and “them” and applying completely different rules to both of them.

    The rest is just obsfucation through rhetorics and PR.

    The fact that it happens, people are not ashamed and will not admit/apologize when they are caught, but instead go on a long speech about what is rigth and what is wrong.

    That’s a damn shame in itself.

  2. When my kids were little, they had their inevitable experiment with theft from a store. We marched them back to the store, made them apologize, and made them pay for the items they stole (50 cents, by the way). Why were we so “harsh?” Because it’s the first step across the line that always the most difficult. After that, it gets easier and easier, and eventually you don’t see the line at all.

    As a nation, we are now crossing the line. If we allow this, 20 years from now we won’t know the difference either. Totalitarianism doesn’t happen all at once. It happens because decent people stop fighting for what is right and begin accepting what is wrong in the name of expedience.

  3. There are too many people who find too many reasons to cause other people pain. Justifications abound. It is for their own good. Its because some higher being said so. It is because someone needs revenge. Or to be taught a lesson. Or, the archetypal ticking bomb. But when you get under the surface, the need to cause pain has other roots. Some people, all too many, enjoy the pain and suffering of others. They achieve gratification by causing such pain. And, in order to make this process “socially acceptable”, they try to wrap it in some higher good. Such opportunists find easy pickings in time of war, there is always an excuse to torture, but never a reason.

    Torture is morally wrong. The only way that those who like to cause pain in others can do so with social acceptance, is to twist logic and make it stand on its head. Offering up seemingly reasonable grounds, that are really unlikely. Life is not a James Bond flick.

    Those of us who do not enjoy others pain have difficulties in seeing the motives of sadists, simply because there is little understanding of the attraction and gratification that some people find in causing others pain.

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