SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Diplomacy, according to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, is the “patriotic art of lying for one’s country.” A fine example of this comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review (PDF), submitted at the end of August:
Thus, the United States prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location. It takes vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts. The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law prohibits torture at both the federal and state levels. On June 26, 2010, on the anniversary of adoption of the Convention Against Torture, President Obama issued a statement unequivocally reaffirming U.S. support for its principles, and committing the United States to continue to cooperate in international efforts to eradicate torture.
A corrected report, with the text necessary to make an honest man out of Uncle Sam added in italics, would read something like this:
Thus, the United States prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location, except when the President, exercising his commander-in-chief powers under the Constitution deems it to be in the national security interest of the United States to use torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading techniques—in which case they will be used, although the United States will deny this fact, and when confronted with physical evidence thereof, it will claim that acts of torture or official cruelty constitute the work of rotten apples, lacking government authority. The United States takes vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts, except when the President, taking the advice of his political advisors, concludes that it would be contrary to his political interests to do so—in which event the official policy of the Government is to “look forward, not back,” and the Attorney General and other law enforcement officials will be prohibited from taking the necessary steps to investigate or prosecute acts of torture and official cruelty. The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law prohibits torture at both the federal and state levels, with the exceptions noted above. On June 26, 2010, on the anniversary of adoption of the Convention Against Torture, President Obama issued a statement conditionally reaffirming U.S. support for its principles, and committing the United States to continue to cooperate in international efforts to eradicate torture. The President’s statement, must, however, be understood as prospective only, and the commitment to investigate and prosecute prior offenses must be understood as subject to the exceptions noted above.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
There was no slant to the sun — it was just there, overhead, burning, making him sweat, making his underwear bind and the shirt stick to his back as if it had been glued on, and why he’d ever let Carolee talk him into this he’d never know. The bus lurched. There was a stink of diesel. Gears ratcheted beneath the floorboards, metal on metal, as if they were going to fuse or maybe explode into a thousand pieces at any moment. He looked beyond Carolee, out the window, feeling ever so slightly queasy, though everyone assured him the water was good here — potable, that was the word on everybody’s lips. Plus, the food was held to the highest standards and the glasses out of which they’d sipped their rum punch and rum Cokes and rum tonics had been scrupulously washed in hot sudsing pristine well water, because this wasn’t like Mexico or Guatemala or Belize, this was special, orderly, clean, a kind of tourist paradise. And cheap. Cheap too.
On top of it all, he had a headache. Or the beginnings of one. But that was understandable, because he’d gulped down three rum punches with lunch, so thirsty he could have drained the whole pitcher the waiter had set in the middle of the table, and no, he wasn’t going to drink the water, no matter what anybody said — not unless it came from a bottle with an unbroken seal. He rubbed his eyes. He had aspirin in his kit back on the ship. Cipro too. But that didn’t do him a whole lot of good now, did it? Anonymous streets rolled by, shops, people, dogs, ratty-looking birds infesting the trees and an armed guard outside every store — or tienda, as his guidebook had it — and what did that tell you about the level of orderliness here? Buenos vecinos. Welcome. Mi casa es su casa.
Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:
Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.
A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”