Davids Medienkritik proudly presents the English version of the newest WELT article from Berlin Aspen Institute's Jeffrey Gedmin.
Adjusting the Law
December 14, 2005
By Jeffrey Gedmin
Arno Widmann comments in the Berliner Zeitung: “the Americans are waging a war against human rights" ("einen Krieg gegen die Menschenrechte"). The same day the Berliner Zeitung ran a long page two story on the CIA's empire of evil. Shoddy Michael Moore-style journalism is popular. Of course, the United States hardly does itself favours. The Bush team seems arrogant and seldom wants to admit a mistake.
It all distracts dangerously from a more serious debate about how we fight the war on terror. Critics argue that the United States cannot have carte blanche to do whatever it wants in Guantanamo. The Bush administration says, Read the Geneva Convention—it does not apply to Al Qaeda prisoners. Both are right. Why does it take so long to get to the inevitable: the development of international law to meet the needs of the current era. We have done this before. That's how we got the Geneva Conventions. Now we need laws that apply to combatants who do not wear a uniform, who hide among civilians and who deliberately target unarmed innocents. These are not the criminals our domestic judicial systems or the international law have been equipped to deal with.
Then there is torture. I yearn to say those words "torture is never justifiable!" I feel confident with other moral absolutes. Slavery is never justifiable. Terrorism is never justifiable. The United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory, bans torture as well as other acts of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Did you know "cruel, inhuman and degrading" can include giving sodium pentathol ("truth serum") to a terrorist who has information about a pending attack? I am not interested in degrading anyone. Nor am I interested in punishment or revenge by the way. I do want information, though, that can prevent further massacres. I want an honest and serious debate about how we get that information.
This U.S. debate is being led by Republican Senator John McCain. McCain has credentials. He spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison and was tortured much of the time. McCain says "No" to torture: any kind, any time, any circumstance, any place. This includes brutal tactics--the cruel, inhuman and degrading stuff--that may fall technically short of torture, such as making a prisoner stand for a long period of time or blasting prisoners with strobe lights and loud rock music. This is presumably the semantic game the Bush administration is playing when it says it does not torture. There is another side to the debate. Like McCain, Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post says torture is a "monstrous evil." In an essay in the Weekly Standard magazine, Krauthammer argues for an absolute ban on all forms of coercion by military personnel. He professes revulsion over the "sick sadomasochism" of Lynndie England and her cronies at Abu Ghraib. But then Krauthammer wants exceptions. He calls for specialized agents--and not just anyone with CIA credentials--who in exceptional, life-saving circumstances would seek permission from the highest political authorities in the country (or from a special judicial body) to interrogate aggressively.
Before we ignite an anti-American (or anti-Gedmin) tirade, please recall that Germans themselves are consumers of information obtained through unsavoury techniques. It seems it is hard to escape ugly dilemmas in the war against Islamo-Faschism. The unpleasant truth is: Aggressive interrogation methods have already saved lives.
This may be what German foreign minister Steinmeyer had in mind when he warned last week against frivolous accusations or judgments Combating the terrorists, says Steinmeyer, poses the most difficult choices for the authorities. I have no doubt. Let's put platitudes aside and let a serious debate begin.
Jeffrey Gedmin is director of the Aspen Institute Berlin