Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stop screaming sir, we're from the government.

Please bear in mind I wrote the following while legally impaired. I considered revising, but thought what the hell, maybe this will encourage people to come visit. I'm all about the civil discourse.

So I’m sitting in the airport (bar) waiting for my flight (and drinking). There’s no punch line there.

Last week I went to a little conference on the Geneva Convention in the War or Terror or Anyone Else We Choose to Wage War Upon. One of the speakers was John Yoo, which is a large part of the reason I attended; after all, I have all this spoiling produce in my refrigerator. He spoke last, and it was interesting how he (mis)characterized the opposition to torture, and also how he attempted to justify his position. I’m unsure if he genuinely believes in his position (and is stupid) or is locked into a position not necessarily of his choosing (and is without a shred of intellectual honesty).

What was interesting about his talk was how he seemed to be trying to move the discussion through a process of subtraction; that is to say, he tried to define our response toward captives by discussing them and the war in terms of what they are not. He characterized his opposition as misunderstanding the nature of the conflict, trying to define it as a criminal enterprise when it’s actually a war. The counter arguments never really made that point, so it looked like a clear straw man, but let’s move on. So it’s not a police action, it’s a war.

But then he moved on to say that the rules of war don’t apply, because Al-Qaeda isn’t really a state, and besides that they’re not signatory to the Geneva Convention. So we don’t have to apply the Geneva Convention to our treatment toward them. So civil law doesn’t apply, and now the laws of war don’t apply; he didn’t say that this gives the US carte blanche to torture, but rather that this should open the door to a national dialogue about prisoner treatment.

However, when prodded about the secrecy surrounding how prisoners are actually being treated by the administration and exactly what official policy states, Yoo informed us that it’s not really our business for reasons of national security. We’re just supposed to trust in our elected officials. Summarizing to this point, it’s not a criminal action but a war, but war rules don’t apply, so we should talk about what rules do apply, but we shouldn’t ask to be informed about what realities we’re really talking about making rules for. What was sort of glossed over is that the veil of secrecy would prevent any enforcement or oversight of any resulting rules, but now I'm just piling on.

What was lost in all the muck is that we do have rules governing how we treat prisoners. Lyndee England, Charles Graner and their merry band of sadists are not in prison because of a lack of clear authority concerning how we treat prisoners, on the contrary there is a large body of law and tradition making it clear that we treat prisoners with compassion and humanity.

Yoo stated that this is a different kind of conflict than any we waged previously, and that bleeding heart liberals don’t understand the critical nature of intelligence in conducting the War on Terror. What I would put forward is that Yoo and his ilk fail to understand the critical nature of ideology in conducting the War on Terror. Since the Revolution we as a nation have been concerned with demonstrating that we are ideologically superior, that we hold fast to the moral high ground. Right now we’re engaged with an enemy whose basic position is that we are a nation of exploiters and desecrators. That we have no respect for Muslims as nations or individuals. John Yoo seems dedicated to proving them right, and it's hard to see how that is going to gain us any ground.