Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Non-denial denials

The headline screams "Rumsfeld says torture not allowed". But when you look at what he said, there's an enormous gap in his words which some journalists really ought to be probing into:

Mr Rumsfeld sought to dispel fears that the US military was regularly using methods of torture.

"There is no wiggle room in the president's mind or my mind about torture," he said.

"That is not something that's permitted under the Geneva Convention or the laws of the United States.

What Rumsfeld wasn't asked - and didn't say - was whether the beating, humiliation and sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the use of "water-boarding" on "high value" prisoners, counted as "torture". Why not? Because saying so would expose the above as a "non-denial denial", reliant on the same sort of hypertechnical parsing that Clinton once used to deny having sexual relations with that woman.

From the legal opinions we've seen, it's quite clear that the Bush Administration does not regard what it is doing as torture (the pain isn't "severe" enough; there's no permanent harm done; no fingernails are pulled or live electrodes used; its being done by Americans). And if it's not torture, it's not illegal... (yet still shameful enough that they must do it in secret and try and distract people from it with fine-sounding words about how torture is unAmerican...)

So, the next time that Bush or Rumsfeld or Powell or whoever stands up there at a podium and spouts one of these non-denial denials about how torture is illegal under US law, journalists should challenge them. They should be hold up photos from Abu Ghraib, read out descriptions of what is being done to prisoners in US custody, and ask after each one "is this torture," "Would it be torture if it was done to an American"? The answers - or "no comments" - should be revealing...