Saturday, September 8, 2007

Collapse of Humanism and Faulkner

The Convention Against Torture went into force on June 26, 1987. The US ratified it on October 21, 1994 with a declaration:

... nothing in this Convention requires or authorizes legislation, or other action by the US prohibited by the Constitution of the US as interpreted by the US.

As I mentioned before, this was a characteristic style of US ratifications of treaties--always, posing the US Constitution as interpreted by the US to be superior, if in clash with the specific Convention.

Furthermore, the US made few well-known today reservations. One was in the form of limiting the definition of torture for its purposes (here):

(1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

This was an important reservation because it basically imposed a specific intent requirement for torture. If torture is inflicted without intent, it does not count as a violation of the Convention.

Furthermore, the US also was worried about protecting its officials:

(d) That with reference to article 1 of the Convention, the United States understands that the term `acquiescence' requires that the public official, prior to the activity constituting torture, have awareness of such activity and thereafter breach his legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such activity.

So, if the public official ignores to learn about the activity, he is shielded from liability.

These reservations and the way the US understands its international obligations came very handy during the tragedy in Abu Ghraib and all the time in Guantanamo. While the US Supreme Court gave certain red lights to the Bush Administration, Congress reacted by enacting the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which was not very helpful. So, nothing happened to reinforce the lessons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. "Torture" has a very limited definition when it comes to anti-terrorism.

It is quite enlightening to compare the beginning of the 20th century with that of the 21st. It was the collapse of humanism that led to genocides and the two world wars... Now we have terrorism and 'anti-terrorism' wrongs that culminated in another collapse of humanism. William Faulkner, one of the greatest American minds, then warned people not to fight evil with the help of evil... Evil cannot destroy the evil... Only kindness and justice can destroy the evil... Today all should heed very carefully to these words by Faulkner.

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