Saturday, December 04, 2004

Into the moral sewer

The US descended further into the moral sewer today, when it asserted that "enemy combatants" could be detained (and presumably punished) on the basis of evidence extracted by torture:

Attorneys for the prisoners argued that some were held solely on evidence gained by torture, which they said violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due process standards. But Boyle argued in a similar hearing Wednesday that the detainees "have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court."

Leon asked whether a detention based solely on evidence gathered by torture would be illegal, because "torture is illegal. We all know that."

Boyle replied that if the military's combatant status review tribunals "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause (of the Constitution) prohibits them from relying on it."

Note that we are not talking about extraordinary cases here - about ticking bombs or busloads of kidnapped children whose location must be discovered before they explode or starve to death; this is not about information extraction, but about whether evidence is sufficient to justify detention or possibly execution (remember, military tribunals can hand down the death penalty). There are very good reasons for forbidding the use of information extracted by torture in these circumstances. The first is that it is unreliable - that people subjected to torture will say whatever they think their torturers want to hear in order to gain some respite. The second is that it is banned by international law; Article 15 of the UN Convention against Torture requires that

[e]ach State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.

But the most important reason is the simplest: because we are human beings. Torture violates the fundamental moral standards which seperate us from monsters. To see the United States, the "beacon of freedom", abandoning these standards simply beggard belief.

If the US courts accept their government's arguments in this case will permanantly tarnish the United States' reputation and put it in the same category as despotisms like Syria, Burma and China. I would also hope that it will result in retribution from the international community. The Americans rightly raise a stink every time some torturing shithole is elected to a UN human rights watchdog; we can apply no lesser standard to them than the one that they would seek to apply to others.