The ICRC is shrill

A vote for Bush was a vote for torture.

Yes, in case you were wondering, elections matter.

Three weeks ago, the country voted narrowly to re-elect an President who ordered that prisoners be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions only “to the extent appropriate with military necessity.” (Or, in English, “Go ahead and torture them if you think you need to.”) That same President had his White House Counsel (whom he has just nominated for Attorney General) write a memo affirming his power to decide, on his own say-so, that the Geneva Conventions simply didn’t apply to Guantanamo. Another legal memos produced on his watch, and never repudiated by him, claimed for the President an unlimited right to order the infliction of torture in defiance of statute and treaty, and opined that the deliberate infliction of severe pain on a prisoner didn’t legally constitute torture unless the person inflicting it intended to inflict severe pain, rather than merely knowing that what he was doing would in fact cause severe pain.

Now it comes out that the International Committee of the Red Cross has described some of what’s going on at Guantanamo as “tantamount to torture.” The Pentagon denies it, but mostly in weasel-words. It’s pretty clear, for example, that the interrogators have been given access to medical records, thus making the camp physicians parties to the interrogation process in violation of their duties to their patients. The Pentagon merely says that the records haven’t been used to harm the prisoners, which isn’t at all the same thing.

The ICRC has a strong policy of not releasing its reports on prisoner conditions, even when, as in this case, the country maltreating the prisoners uses the fact of ICRC visits as “evidence” that no maltreatment is going on. But of course there’s no obligation of confidentiality imposed on the government receiving the report.

The Pentagon says we’re not torturing anyone. I’m glad they’re denying it; hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, and it would be much worse if they were saying “Yes, we’re torturing them, and what are you going to do about it?”

Still, the public has the right to ask what is being done in its name. So may we see the document, please?

No? I didn’t think so.

And yes, this is what 51% of the public just voted for. When Mr. Bush kept insisting that he was more against terrorism than his opponent, part of the subtext is that he was willing to violate law, treaty, and the Constitution and his opponent — the

Frenchified wimp — wasn’t.

Voting for torture is contemptible. We should not be surprised if the result is that our nation is held in contempt.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: