Friday, June 18, 2004

The Economist has a great article about a memo that was leaked from the Bush administration, effectively offering legal advice about how to torture people and get away with it. The memo attempts to do this in three ways, all of which are dubious.

- It defines torture so narrowly that activities such as nearly drowning people would not fall within the definition (a technique that South Africans might remember from the TRC).
- It argues that the President is effectively above the law when acting as commander in chief of the military.
- It attempts to broaden the circumstances in which torture might be justified.

As the article points out, the odd thing about this memo is that it defines its task, not as "what is the law regarding torture?", but as "what can we get away with?" To me this suggests that the lawyer in question was asked the latter question instead of the former by a senior figure in the Administration, which suggests a rather cynical attitude towards human rights in general.

Surprising, really, how quickly our most fundamental moral convictions start to buckle when a society is placed under strain.


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