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Sunday, June 13, 2004

The View from the Civilized Country to our North

The Canadian Globe & Mail reflects on the meaning of the Bushies' torture memo:
"The right to self-defence, even when it involves deadly force, is deeply embedded in our law, both as to individuals and as to the nation as a whole," a team of lawyers at the Pentagon said in a 56-page memo to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in March of 2002.

These justifications represent a break from the post-Second-World-War consensus of the civilized world. This is a watershed moment, not only for the United States but for the rule of law worldwide.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture ("no exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture"), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- these are the very anchors of the postwar determination to protect the inherent dignity of the individual. They may now be treated as obsolete.

What would the world look like without these anchors? Abu Ghraib provides one example. The U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, formerly Saddam Hussein's favourite torture chamber, featured sexual humiliation, beatings and threats of imminent death. "This is not America," President George Bush said at the time.

Yet if U.S. law now justifies torture, Abu Ghraib is America. And there is no reason to believe this version of America ends at Abu Ghraib.