Monday, December 15, 2014

Rules of Law (for some)

In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decision and the subsequent street protests and rioting, Obama weighed in with the following third-grade civics cliché’: "First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law."

Apart from the fact that this response to the grand jury decision was so utterly inadequate to the significance of the event, most Americans know this tired claim is entirely false. Some are prosecuted for breaking the law – like selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island -- while others are given a free pass – like the entire financial sector that blew up the US and world economy. Social class is always the leading predictor of who gets what from the criminal justice system. [See Matt Taibbi’s Divide for the latest on this long-running story of American criminal injustice.]

The hypocritical double standard is not confined to the national level. U.S. distain for the application of the rule of law to the privileged and powerful is now on full global display. With the release of the Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the obvious question from the international community is: who will be prosecuted for the crimes of torture?

The United States is a signatory of The United Nations Convention Against Torture, on which according to Zeid Raad al Hussein, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights:

“It is “ crystal clear..It says – and I quote – ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture….It is now time to take action. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.”

But don’t expect the Obama administration to live up to our obligation to the UN Convention. As Obama has stated many times, the United States will "leave these techniques where they belong - in the past".

This means no one will be brought to justice and no one will be held accountable. In short, we will arrogantly violate the closest thing we have to international law. This will simply be a continuation of the long-time U.S. practice of assuming global moral superiority and a special status that allows occupations, invasions, drone assassinations, and, in the name of national security, torture.

But there is one thing we can also be sure of. The next time we hear the U.S. invoking international law and “norms of civilized conduct” it will be as the pretext to another American military adventure in a far off location.

1 comment:

  1. Torture is always wrong.

    What is more disturbing than the violation of a basic moral truth is that it occurs in violation of various, landmark documents, treaties, and declarations which explicitly or implicitly decry and forbid torture.

    Punishment of those involved would be as just as it would be refreshing.

    However, the unfortunate condition of humanity makes consistently just and moral action incredibly difficult. Often, torture is justified on the basis that not only will our enemies grant us no quarter, but that anything which furthers our interest relative to theirs is often an action worth undertaking.

    Rousseau wrote about justice that, “Doubtless, there is a universal justice emanating from reason alone; but this justice, to be admitted among us, must be mutual. Humanly speaking, in default of natural sanctions, the laws of justice are ineffective among men: they merely make for the good of the wicked and the undoing of the just, when the just man observes them towards everybody and nobody observes them towards him.” This echoed a simpler assertion by Thrasymachus, a sophist from the dialog in Plato's Republic when he claimed that "justice is in the interest of the strong."

    It's difficult to deal fairly with those who have no intention to play fair, as those who deal honestly will usually get the short end of the stick.

    This is no justification of torture or the actions of US officials, but rather a comment on the difficulties of ethical action.