Thursday, December 08, 2005

Memo to Nancy Pelosi: Assume that Anything This Adminstration Says is BS

Condoleezza Rice got herself some nice press coverage by stating on her trip to Europe that the United States does not torture prisoners, here or abroad. This is how the Washington Post reported it:
U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extend as "a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said here at a news conference with Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko.

If you've been paying close attention to this mendacious administration, however, it won't come as a surprise that this statement is carefully crafted to mislead, and doesn't say what it seems to say on first impression. As Eric Umansky has explained, the Bush Justice Department has opined that the Convention Against Torture prohibits cruel treatment only of U.S. prisoners at home or abroad. Foreigners, held in prisons not on U.S. soil, such as the secret CIA prisons in Europe. They're fair game.

Moreover, as Media Matters has pointed out, press coverage of Rice's statement failed to point out that the Bush administration uses a extremely narrow definition of torture, that allows it to engage in extremely abusive treatment of prisoners.

So Rice's statement, far from being some kind of breakthrough, was just a continuation of the Bush administration's sickening double-talk on torture: We don't torture, because we're the good guys, but don't make us stop torturing because we're the good guys. We're the good guys because we don't torture, but anything we don't short of causing major organ failure isn't torture. And we abide by our treaty obligations, but we interpret these treaties as allowing us to do whatever the hell we want to foreigners in foreign places.

So it's unfortunate that Nancy Pelosi waded into this story with the following comment, as reported by the Associated Press:

"It's about time," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of Rice's remarks. "Shame on us that it took so long for the administration" to make such a determination.

Yes, Pelosi was being critical of the administration. But she also gave them undue credit for making a determination against committing torture abroad. Sadly, no such determination has been made. Here's what Pelosi should have said:

Secretary Rice seems to be continuing this administration's pattern of double-talk. She says that the United States acts consistent with our treaty obligations, without saying that the administration's interpretation of our treaty obligations allows the use of treatment that any reasonable person would consider cruel and degrading, and allows torture of non-citizens when conducted outside of U.S. territory. I call on Secretary Rice to issue a clear statement that the United States prohibits its personnel and agents from abusing any prisoner, anywhere, and to support legislation that would codify this policy. Until then, we will have to assume that Rice's statements are a smokescreen for a policy that promotes torture and abuse.