Monday, April 27, 2009

What Is Torture?

For all the dust raised about the release of the Bush administration memos that defined torture, there seems to be a question about whether or not what it actually is. A lot of wingers are saying that the techniques we used — waterboarding, humiliation, forced lack of sleep — aren’t really torture; Rush Limbaugh, the head of the Republican Party, once dismissed them as “fraternity pranks.” This past weekend, Newt Gingrich, who would like to be president some day, couldn’t really define it. He was interviewed by Greta Van Sustren on Fox News.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you said a minute ago that it was torture, waterboarding…

GINGRICH: No, I said it’s not something we should do.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Is it torture or not?

GINGRICH: I — I — I think it’s — I can’t tell you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does it violate the Geneva Convention?

GINGRICH: I honestly don’t know.

Well, let’s help Mr. Gingrich out, then. Torture has been defined by the United Nations as:

[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…

That makes it pretty clear, doesn’t it? Waterboarding, for the which we tried Japnese war criminals after World War II, is torture. So was what went on at Abu Ghraib and at Gitmo.

But, the wingers counter, we’re at war; Jack Bauer, 24, the ticking time bomb, yada yada. No, that’s not an excuse.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Oh, well, this was just some convention put forth by the UN, and you know what a bunch of panty-waists they are; this convention was probably dreamed up by Jimmy Carter and ratified by those bleeding hearts in Congress.

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

That’s from the signing statement by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

So that should pretty much settle the question.

HT to Andrew Sullivan.