Attempt to spark discussion


in Law, Politics, Security

Relatively good news this week: The American armed forces have said that they will close the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Of course, with Guantanamo Bay and less well known detention centres in operation, this may be more of an exercise in public relations management than a demonstration of a genuine commitment to human rights.

Relatively bad news: President Bush struck a nuclear deal with India, largely sweeping away the restrictions put in place following its testing of nuclear weapons. The deal is evidence that the period of condemnation following the development of nuclear weapons is relatively short and likely to be truncated for short-term political reasons. Also, like the failure to pursue the reduction of existing weapons stock and experimentation on new designs, the provision of nuclear materials to India violates America’s commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

South Dakota passed a law criminalizing all forms of abortion in which the life of the mother is not at risk. Through the inevitable series of court challenges, the issue will once again be presented to the Supreme Court, where a danger exists that the legally questionable but highly important precedent of Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

For no particularly good reason, the bid of DP World, a firm from the United Arab Emirates, to buy P&O Ports, owner of six major ports in the United States, has been withdrawn due to political opposition. The Dubai-based company would have been subject to the same security requirements as American firms. This outcome seems to be a reflection of the kind of generalized hostility towards the Muslim world that exists in the Western liberal democracies, despite the efforts of leaders to stress that their objection is to terrorism, not to Islam.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 10, 2006 at 5:36 pm

One clear reason for opposition to the ports deal among Democrats is that it allows them to pander to racists while maintaining the ability to deny that they’re doing so. This is usually an area where Republicans shine.

B March 10, 2006 at 5:43 pm

First off – I object to the obsessive focus on American foreign policy here. It may be the news that you choose to pay attention to, but it certainly isn’t all the news that’s fit to print.

You’re right that the prison closure is all but meaningless when the administration retains the mad belief that the President is allowed to torture people and the the Geneva Conventions shouldn’t apply within the war on terror.

You’re probably wrong about the nuclear thing, since the NPT is dead anyways and everyone knows it. The US hasn’t taken it seriously for decades – if it ever did – and you can be sure China, France, and Russia don’t. All happily provided nuclear technology and know-how that ended up advancing weapon development in various dodgy states. Think of the Orisak reactor in Iraq or American aid to the Israeli (and French) nuclear weapons programs. In the long term, trying to get India broadly on side is probably a good move by the US.

Anonymous March 10, 2006 at 7:38 pm

sibilance is associated most often with speech impediments… having spent many years in speech therapy and then acting and voice lessons I managed to overcome the habit of introducing myself as ‘Athley Sorvalthin’. I think I take your blog’s title to be that sharp intake of breath that people make in reaction to shock or disapproval or wonder. I realized that my speech may have been genetic; I easily absorbed the pronounciation of Icelandic dominated by the ‘eth’ and ‘thorn’ [athens, mother, TH sounds respectively] after a lifetime of correcting that sounds an dusing in appropriately in English.

So when I think ‘sibilant intake of breath’ the intake in question may be ocular instead of respiratory and the sibilance changing breath to breas/t-h.

Is that too convoluted to be clever?

B March 10, 2006 at 8:27 pm

That’s a really cool interpretation. I like it.

I think the title of the blog is lifted directly from Nabokov. Interestingly, it’s not from a section of Lolita about Humbert and Dolores, but rather from a section describing the child Humbert and Annabel. Both a Nabokov and a Poe reference, then.

Anonymous March 10, 2006 at 9:16 pm

A section which I note to be quite graphic: in that literary sort of way.

Anonymous March 10, 2006 at 11:18 pm

“B” and Milan:
For the record, the “administration” is hardly monolithic in its position on torture and the Geneva Conventions. The Defense Department has held the position for some time that the Geneva Conventions must apply; if you do some research on the last guy in charge of Detainee Affairs in the Pentagon, you’ll find that out. It’s trite, disappointing, and unproductive to find posts/comments on a blog of this caliber which abandon nuance and insight for oversimplification.

Milan March 10, 2006 at 11:21 pm

All I said is that I’m not sure if this “demonstrates a genuine commitment to human rights.”

The simple denial of due legal process – even in the absence of torture – constitutes such a violation. While there are surely dissenting voices, especially in the uniformed services, the present policy of the United States does not reflect a respect for human rights.

B March 11, 2006 at 12:11 am

The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Milan June 29, 2006 at 4:47 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled President Bush overstepped his authority in creating military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees. The 5-3 vote (Roberts recused himself) found the “military commissions” illegal under both military justice law and the Geneva Convention.

. June 13, 2008 at 11:17 am

And in the end, this is the fight between the majority and the dissent: Kennedy and the justices who signed his opinion (David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) are worried about the very real risk of a lifetime of mistaken imprisonment. And the dissenters (Scalia, Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito) are worried about the risk of … what? Not an actual mistaken release, but a day in court. The big threat here is of federal court review that may—somewhere far down the line, and at the moment entirely hypothetically—result in the release of a detainee or (more attenuated still) the disclosure of a piece of hypothetical information that could help the terrorists in their fight against us.

Six years of no trials, in the eyes of the dissenters, is more than justifiable in the hopes of dozens more years of no trials. And it’s precisely that sense of time passing without consequence that so infuriates the majority. Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Souter each observe in their opinions today that the passage of so many years while detainees waited and watched was preposterous. This is not some demented Supreme Court prematurely racing into a war zone with morning breath, uncombed hair, and misguided good intentions. This is a deliberative Supreme Court saying that it’s been standing by for six long years. That’s how long it’s been since the Bush administration started doing battle with the federal courts alongside its battle against the enemy.

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