Out of the horror of World War II came one of the great achievements in all of human history: the Geneva Convention of 1949. It was a statement from humanity to itself that, in the aftermath of the bloodiest war in history, some decency might still be rescued. Despite the millions of senseless dead, despite all the mass murder and genocide and terror bombing, despite all the filth and hypocrisy and witless incompetence, the Convention states these things shall be held inviolate in war:
Wounded and sick soldiers shall be treated humanely, and medical facilities shall be off-limits to attack.
The same shall be true of wounded, sick, or shipwrecked sailors, and humanitarian ships.
Prisoners of war shall be treated humanely.
Non-combatants shall be treated humanely.
In 1988, President Reagan signed into law a treaty adding another stipulation to the list:
Torture shall be absolutely forbidden.
Reagan was no saint. His foreign policy caused tens of thousands of pointless deaths in Nicaragua alone. But he worked hard to get this treaty passed, and it is to my mind his greatest achievement. It added a bright star to the narrative of human progress….
Let’s compare that to the text of the Convention Against Torture:
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.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of President Obama (aside from his unflappable, even cadence) is the way he instinctively tries to understand and legitimize both sides of every debate. When well-applied, as it was during his famous speech on race during the 2008 campaign, it adds needed nuance and complexity to difficult subjects.
Torture, on the other hand, is a simple subject that has little nuance or complexity. It is an absolute evil that has no place or function in a civilized, decent society. It is illegal under United States law. Only a complete idiot would try to use it to gather intelligence. Its only effective uses are thoroughly totalitarian: to intimidate, punish, and extract false confessions.
For the most part I am going to let the words above speak for me. Torture and anyone condoning it is simply idiocy. Yes, I kind of agree that one of President Obama’s most distinctive characteristics is trying to legitimize both sided of a debate. Many times he is just too intellectual for his own, or the country’s good.
I also agree that Reagan was no saint but he came through with his abject hatred of torture. I wonder how that affects his image for many of the current crop of conservatives who condone that tactic? Torture simply has no place in humanity. Enough said…..