President Bush vetoed legislation that would have forbidden the CIA from using certain torture techniques, such as simulated drowning. It seems a clear sign of what we have lost due to excessive concern about terrorism – the understanding that governments are the most dangerous entities in the world. While they generally lack the desire to cause mayhem that defines terrorist groups, the powers governments have are so vast that they can do great harm through simple ineptitude, or a failure to police the actions of their agents. Facilitating torture is an international crime, and for good reason. It is a shame that geopolitics ensures that none of America’s new generation of torturers will even find themselves on trial in The Hague.
Stopping this legislation ensures that a few more people will be tortured needlessly, in violation of international law and the kind of ethics that we are supposedly trying to defend from terrorism. Furthermore, I think it’s likely that decisions like this will be looked back on in thirty years time much as we now look back on using the CIA to arm Osama bin Laden and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, or help keep Pinochet in power. In the long term and in purely geopolitical terms, it will prove to be an own-goal for the United States – further tarnishing its increasingly shaky reputation on human rights and emboldening governments like China and Sudan to treat the idea even more disdainfully.