Thursday, September 28, 2006

Now What?

So, now that Congress has authorized unlimited detention and torture, what do we do about this monstrosity? It is pointless to hope that if Democrats take over Congress they would repeal this bill. Even if they can find their spines, George Bush would simply veto it. Nor can the courts strike the law down as unconstitutional, since it carefully denies any opportunity for court challenge.

So what does that leave? The best alternative I have seen to despair can be gleaned from this post describing the torture of American prisoners of war by the North Vietnamese. Three things stand out in this article:

(1) The Vietnamese torture of American POW's uses many of the same techniques of "enhanced interrogation" Bush is advocating (especially the use of stress positions).

(2) The situation of American POW's held by the North Vietnamese would seem infinitely worse than that of any detainee of the United States. The North Vietnamese had no opposition party to challenge their leader's actions, no Congressional committees to investigate what was being done, no independent judiciary to hear a habeus corpus petition, no investigative reporters to look into what was happening, no freedom of the press to allow such things to be published.

(3) And yet, in spite of everything, the North Vietnamese were subject to pressure. One prisoner won improvement for himself and the others by slashing his wrists and nearly bleeding to death (what Bushies call an insidious form of "asymmetrical warfare" when Guantanamo detainees do it). Another did not know why conditions got better, but speculated that treatment improved because his captors feared that they would look bad if he died. But above all the North Vietnamese stopped torturing prisoners when the story got out of what they were doing. Publicity forced them to change their ways. International opinion mattered.

And there, admittedly, our detainees are in a worse position than American POW's. North Vietnam was a minor country taking on a superpower. The North Vietnamese needed all the international support they could get. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, with no serious rival and a leader famed for his contempt for international opinion. But counterbalancing this disadvantage are all the advantages of a free press and a democratic society.

And so we may consider that a challenge. If the North Vietnamese government, a Communist dictatorship, could be pressured into stopping torture, then surely we in the U.S., with all the advantages of a democratic society, can do the same.



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