No Comment — September 8, 2010, 11:22 am

Lying for One’s Country

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.

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