Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Economist shows some ankle

Maroonblog had this interesting post from the British newsmag The Economist. The Economist calls for Rumsfeld to resign. They're wrong, but the article is interesting reading.

For one thing, a US Cabinet is not comparable to a British Cabinet. There is a great deal of flexibility and horse-trading involved in the selection of British Ministers. The closest American approximation is in the selection of committee chairs in Congress: your seniority earns you a place somewhere, and a place will be found. In this atmosphere, 'responsibility' can mean exchanging places with another senior politician.

Whereas the American Secretaries are specifically approved for one department, and cannot play musical chairs in the British manner. 'Responsibility' for mistakes means cleaning up your own messes; resignation is an acknowledgement of total incompetence for any position of trust.

The article is also unpersuasive that Rusmfeld should go to prevent the prison abuse photos from reaching the damaging level of the photo of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing American napalm. LBJ's Administration did get the boot, and yet that photo is still so familiar the Economist can discuss it without showing it.

What I thought was very interesting was the following passage about our 'abuse' at Guantanamo:
It was wrong because it violated the very values and rule of law for which America was supposedly fighting, and soon produced evidence of double standards: some American citizens captured in Afghanistan were allowed to stand trial in American courts in the normal way, but such rights were denied to mere foreigners, every single one of whom was labelled as a dangerous terrorist by Mr Rumsfeld, regardless of any evidence. It has been disastrous for America's reputation because of that hypocrisy but also because it has become a symbol of a “we'll decide” arrogance.
The Geneva conventions that have governed the treatment of prisoners of war for decades were waved aside. And the argument used to justify America's rejection of the new International Criminal Court—that its soldiers would be vulnerable to unreasonable persecution, with necessary military actions defined as crimes—looked ever more hollow. Thanks to Guantánamo, critics could argue that America really does need the check of the ICC, and that its claim that abuses would readily be dealt with in domestic courts was also hollow.

Well. Putting aside the fact that the Geneva Convention permits militaries to determine whether irregular combatants are prisoners of war, putting aside the fact that you cannot claim that people we captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan are entitled to both prisoner of war status and a presumption of innocence of being combatants... I recall that at the time the ICC was being debated in the US, the Bush Administration objected to language in the treaty that would permit the ICC to retry acquittals and cases already adjucated by national courts. And the Administration was told that if we'd sign the treaty as written, there would be a gentlemanly agreement such language would not be applied to the US. And when Bush refused to sign an objectionable written treaty based on unwritten codicils, he was pilloried for his unilateral arrogance. Yet here is the best English language weekly in Europe, discussing US jurisprudence as if such ICC 'checks' would have been applicable!

President Bush has his faults, but he is not a sucker for smooth talk.

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