Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MORE Honest Thinking About Torture

Score one for the ledger against using torture. Yesterday's Washington Post reports that:

"Several governments around the world have tried to rebut criticism of how they handle detainees by claiming they are only following the U.S. example in fighting terrorism, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture said Monday.

Manfred Nowak said that when he criticizes governments for their questionable treatment of detainees, they respond by telling him that if the United States does something, it must be all right. He would not name any countries except Jordan.

"The United States has been the pioneer . . . of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world," Nowak said at a news conference. "Today, many other governments are kind of saying: 'But why are you criticizing us? We are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.' "

Now, I'm skeptical that countries would be less likely to torture their prisoners if the US doesn't. They may be using US behavior as a smoke screen to justify their own actions, but that doesn't mean that if the US stops said behavior and the smoke clears, that the other countries would stop as well.

Still, American reputation matters. Soft power is a critical tool of foreign policy, and US soft power stems from, to a large degree, American claims of moral rectitude and liberalism. And if one believes in democratic peace theory, it certainly becomes harder to move countries towards liberalism if the US is seen behaving badly.

This doesn't convince me that torture should be ruled out, but it certainly provides evidence towards that conclusion.

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