Friday, 23 January 2009

Rendition and Torture

For the last few years it has seemed that al-Qaida's terrorism were succeding in bringing about a world as they desired, in which the USA, ironically the the biggest enemy of al-Qaida, was leading the way. Now that Obama has become the President of the U.S.A. the initial signs are that this is no longer the case. Al-Qaida can no longer look to the USA an (unwitting?) ally in encouraging barbaric practices.

Within a day of Bush officially leaving office, President Obama is making a bold attempt to right the wrongs of that administration, going beyond expectations, not just in banning torture and removing laws enacted that "legalized" such actions under the Bush regime.

From today's Guardian:

Obama's decision to permanently shut down the CIA's clandestine interrogation centres went far beyond the widely anticipated move to wind down the Guantánamo Bay detention centre within a year.

He cast his scrapping of the legal apparatus set up by Bush as a way for America to reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against al-Qaida
It goes far beyond just taking the moral high ground against al-Qaida. If we look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a treaty signed up to by all members of the United Nations but still, sadly, not followed by most countries, under the Bush regime certain articles were blatantly ignored and in a way that significantly set back progress, for the world, on these issues. For example:
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
Granted the moral principle of reciprocation, popularly known as the golden rule: "do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you" or, even the stronger (and IMHO erroneous) version "do unto others what you want them to do to you", the Bush Regime set an example to all other countries of what was acceptable behaviour in treating, at least, their non-citizens. If the most powerful country in the world could do this, why could not anyone else? It made a hypocrisy of any USA argument condemning another country for such practices. Of course "everybody does it" is an unsound argument but in the real world the USA's example de-legitimised them in the eyes of the world and gave plenty of material to cynics and anti-USA supporters. Given the UK's direct involvement and support of the USA in the Second Iraq War, this did not help the UK's international position either.

Now in a better world we would not need the human social construct of a set of Universal Rights to point this out to any country. Most everyone has many and strong reasons to condemn such actions, since such actions increase the amount of thwarting of desires of everyone, reducing the overall well-being in the world. We have seen time and again, that once a government has legitimised such practices, the definition of terrorists can be looser and looser until any citizen could fall under such laws and potentially suffer such types of interrogation.

Of course and arguably, there may be extraordinary circumstances where torture might be the only way to save the lives of many people. Still, even then, it should still be regarded as wrong, never right, and to be recognised as the reluctant last course of action to take to save their lives. And whether it succeeds or not, the interrogators have to accept that they have overstepped the bounds of law and might have to suffer the consequences of doing so. It should never be officially endorsed and legalised as part of the standard part of a country's defence and legal enforcement practices. As already noted, anyone familiar with history will know all too well that way lies despotism and worse.

As much as the Bush regime should be condemned for officially legalising such barbaric practices, the new Obama regime should be commended for making a U-turn and starting to set an example of how a modern liberal democracy can work ethically, in spite of a still unresolved "War on Terror". Indeed that slogan needs to be dropped. There will always be terror in this world, what needs to addressed are the sources of terror: the beliefs and desires that are encouraged that bring about such heinous actions, some of these at least can be alleviated, but that is for another post.