Be he ne'er so vile
There was an open post a few days back about the proposed McCain Amendment, where readers expressed a variety of views on the subject; some for and some against. Zacht Ei has a post highlighting two arguments advanced in support of the amendment. The post is reproduced here in full.
What's (not) so great about America
In an excellent op-ed The Economist eloquently explains why Bush should sign the McCain Amendment - not because America is an evil country, but precisely because it is one of the greatest democracies in the world:
In the cold war, America championed the Helsinki human-rights accords. This time, the world's most magnificent democracy is struggling against vile terrorists who thought nothing of slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians—and yet the administration has somehow contrived to turn America's own human-rights record into a subject of legitimate debate.
Mr Bush would rightly point out that anti-Americanism is to blame for some of the opprobrium heaped on his country. But why encourage it so cavalierly and in such an unAmerican way? Nearly two years after Abu Ghraib, the world is still waiting for a clear statement of America's principles on the treatment of detainees. Mr McCain says he will keep on adding his amendment to different bills until Mr Bush signs one of them. Every enemy of terrorism should hope he does so soon.
We are better than our enemies. There is no shame in signing an amendment to that effect; only strength.
Update 18.05: Sullivan adds:
This is not about the moral status of terrorists or mass murderers. It's about us, the moral status of the West, and places where as a civilization, we simply will not go as a matter of policy.
Indeed. I for one refuse to let my moral standards be defined by those whom Mr. Bush aptly described as 'thugs and murderers'.
I'm going to make a personal prediction. The number of incidents involving the torture of terrorist suspects will increase after the McCain Amendment, or something like it, is passed. There will be a fall in the number of interrogation incidents in US custody. It may even become zero. However, there will be a corresponding increase in torture incidents involving agencies of other governments, including European governments, all of whom will fully subscribe to every piece of human rights legislation which can be imagined, but who in practice will simply do what they want.
What the McCain Amendment will do is change the bean-counting rules. It will not create a framework in which real torture can be limited and stopped. That would require accepting moral responsibility for affirming practices which may be proscribed under the Geneva Conventions but fall short of real torture. That would mean explaining to the public that we are correspondingly determined to outlaw real, barbaric torture, even when by foreswearing it, public losses must be endured. Instead politicians will want to have it both ways and promise the public that they will neither soil their hands nor let the sleeping populace come to harm. No one who desires re-election can promise the voters only "blood, sweat and tears". The time is long since past when politicians could say to a nation at war "death and sorrow will be the companion of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield." That's too much of a drag. Today even our conflicts, like our food, must be untouched by human hands.
It will effectively rule out the use of drugs, sleep deprivation and threat, which arguably should not be classed as torture and make these methods unavailable for interrogation. When taken together with the public clamor to provide nearly 100% protection against terrorist attack, it will create a heightened demand for information which cannot be met, even partially, by practices which fall short of real torture but which exceed the restrictions of international conventions. That need will be filled instead by a black market for coercion organized by a variety of non-American entities for whom the rules do not apply, nor were ever expected to apply, for "we are better than our enemies"; and one might add, better than our friends.
In practice terrorist suspects captured anywhere in the world won't be taken to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, or any "hell-hole" under US control. Nor will they be handled for an instant by US nationals or taken in raids involving a single American. No, that would be too dangerous -- to the health of the captives, though thankfully for the politicians, not to the legal health of the Americans. They will be captured and retained by countries beyond the circle of attention. On the day the Amendment is passed there will be light everywhere except in the places of our soul where we don't want to look.