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A Comment On US Torture Policy

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I talked about the double standard regarding torture a few days ago. Now the Financial Times weighs in, saying the Administration’s insistence that they be able to do whatever they want with suspected terrorists (including torturing them to death) should always be an option.

The US certainly needs to revamp its public diplomacy. The war on terror will ultimately be won not on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The existing communications effort is absurdly weak for the nation that invented public relations. Ms Hughes can contribute much by shaking up the bureaucracy and providing strong leadership. But it will all be for nothing if the US keeps handing the jihadists successive propaganda coups.

This is what happened again this week. A series of amendments by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham proposed mandating that the military follow its own interrogation rules in all cases, register all detainees at military facilities with the Red Cross and formalise procedures for determining enemy combatant status. By threatening to veto them, the White House signalled that it still will not accept any legal limit on its treatment of detainees. This undermines one of America’s strongest cards in the global propaganda war: the idea that it is, in Mr Graham’s words, a “rule-of-law nation”.

The FT correctly points out that McCain and Graham’s proposal is not without its flaws, but it’s a necessary step in winning a war against a tactic.

Not that the McCain/Graham amendments are perfect. They duck the question of what to do about “ghost detainees” held by the CIA at non-military facilities, who are at greatest risk of abuse. Moreover, they intrude on executive prerogative by seeking to micro-manage the war on terror. It would be much better if the executive branch led a highly visible campaign to stamp out mistreatment as fundamentally un-American. But it has not done so.

Read the rest here.