Sunday, April 19, 2009

The United States: A Global Player or a Nation Apart?

I think this nation is about to be confronted with a question that will roil the populace. Is the United States really a part of the global community, or are we a country apart with a different set of standards to be applied to it?

I am reading through the memoranda from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel right now, but I have also been reading about the reactions to the release of these memoranda, that seem, so far, to provide "legal" justification for torture. BHO has said that he did not think that those CIA members who carried out the "enhanced" interrogation tactics should be subject to prosecution. However, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, begs to differ. According to Nowak, the United States is required to investigate and prosecute when torture claims have been made, and possibly can be found to be true.

That is what prompted my question. I think that there are many, regardless of party, who see the United States as a nation apart, a nation that needn't follow the rules of international law. Yet, these same folks, the many, would have no problem leveling judgment, if these things referred to another country. I believe that we are part of a broader global community, and the moment we signed various treaties, and agreed that those treaties had provisions that also became the law of our land, we affirmed our place within that global community.

It is becoming clearer that torture was done in our name. Torture, however, is illegal. Period. It is our responsibility, as both citizens of the United States, and citizens of the world, to investigate and prosecute, when necessary, anyone who has violated the law. We have an opportunity to restore our moral authority, so sadly shunted to the wayside by the previous administration.

I believe that if we attempt to do what is right and just on this issue of investigating and prosecuting all tied to this issue of torture, the political right will lose its mind. If this had happened under a Democratic administration, the drumbeat from the right for investigations and prosecutions would be like the eerie heartbeat under the floorboards that Poe made famous. That heartbeat needs to be heard by all in political Washington, until they are driven to do what is morally right. Then, and only then, can we re-join, with moral authority restored, the global community where we rightly belong.


Scott said...

Free, I agree. It seems pretty simple to me that if the Administration refuses to enforce the law, the Administration is in fact obstructing the law.

But...there's a but here.

I imagine the dilemma President Obama is facing. He understands all the arguments you have just made. I would guess that Barack Obama the former professor of Constitutional Law in fact agrees with all those arguments.

But he has a problem. He has a house on fire and limited resources to bring to bear on trying to keep the house from burning to the ground. I think he is focused on averting a depression that could rival the 1930s. I think that there are many worthwhile things he would like to be able to spend political capital on...but that he is focused on averting economic disaster.

Having said all that...I still agree with you. The crimes that were committed by the previous administration go to the very heart of the values that make us American. And we are a nation of laws, not men. But on this one, I'm going to trust Obama to make the decision.

The house is on fire. There are things I think should be done...but on this one I'm going to trust the Fire Chief.

Curious said...

I agree with you, but the United States has always played as if it was separate and superior to all other nations, at least since WWI and will not change overnight. The POTUS will state that "mistakes were made" but will never go beyond that because to do that would be to divide his support and jeapordize whatever his agenda is.

Anonymous said...

I understand your outrage regarding torture. (By the way, do you have a specific definition in mind?) Let me say at the outset that I don’t' support torture. Neither did the Republican candidate Sen. McCain, who has considerable experience with it while serving his country. I also agree with the Administration's decision on how to handle the issue. The WP recently editorialized that "[t]he administration announced that it would not seek to press criminal charges against CIA operatives who participated in enhanced interrogations of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration."It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement."

However, if you did want to prosecute the civil servants who carried out these policies in the wake of 9/11 you could certainly use U.S. law. There is no need to rely on the UN.

In law school I took a course on international law. The adjunct professor worked at an NGO whose entire approach was to use international treaties (which were often aspirational in nature) and which NGOs deemed "customary international law" to seek domestic policy objectives in the U.S. Needless to say, it was an interesting semester.

Try reading some UN treaties and then consider how widely they are "enforced." The UN Declaration on Human Rights is a nice example. It says, among other things:

Article 23
1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Now, where do the Afghans, the Sudanese, or the North Koreans go to enforce these rights?

Also, you may want to consider how serious you are about subjecting the U.S. to the views of UN members. How many UN members in Africa or in the Middle East support you on gay marriage? Or tolerate the lawful existence of gays in their countries for that matter? I don't think that is the global community that you want us to follow.

You write "I think this nation is about to be confronted with a question that will roil the populace. Is the United States really a part of the global community, or are we a country apart with a different set of standards to be applied to it?" The answer to your question is "yes." We are both a part of the global community and we (like other nations) are a country apart. Membership in the UN does not mean that we surrender our sovereignty.

I have some experience with international organizations and I think it is important for the US to play a leading role in them. But we must also keep in mind Senator Moynihan's characterization of the UN as "A Dangerous Place" (a great memoir by the Senator describing his service at the UN).