Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Torture, the rule of law and Bin Laden

Glenn Greenwald sums up the issues of international law as it relates to the death of Osama bin Laden and the broader question of applying the rule of law to terrorism cases in The Osama bin Laden exception Salon 05/06/2011:

For me, the better principles are those established by the Nuremberg Trials, and numerous other war crimes trials accorded some of history's most gruesome monsters. It should go without saying for all but the most intellectually and morally stunted that none of this has anything to do with sympathy for bin Laden. Just as was true for objections to the torture regime or Guantanamo or CIA black sites, this is about the standards to which we and our Government adhere, who we are as a nation and a people.

The Allied powers could easily have taken every Nazi war criminal they found and summarily executed them without many people caring. But they didn't do that, and the reason they didn't is because how the Nazis were punished would determine not only the character of the punishing nations, but more importantly, would set the standards for how future punishment would be doled out.
I should note here that we also need to apply a critical understanding to the Nuremberg Trials, even though I agree with Glenn's characterization. There was an aspect of "victor's justice" to them. Some charges - like shooting survivors of a ship sinking - were not used because the United Nations Allies (including the US) had often committed them as well.

Joan McCarter calls attention to this interview with "Matthew Alexander" (a pseudonym) in which he discusses the morality, legality and effectiveness of torture. That is: it's immoral, illegal, and at best marginally effective in obtaining useful information. Dan Froomkin weighs in on the same, including information from an interview with Michael Alexander, in Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It Huffington Post 05/06/2011:

It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier -- information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, "they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us," Alexander told The Huffington Post.

"We know that they didn’t give us everything, because they didn’t provide the real name, or the location, or somebody else who would know that information," he said.
The torture issue isn't going away.

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