Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:12 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:12 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Torture and American exceptionalism


Sam Roggeveen


6 May 2009 11:55

Reader Tobias writes in with this response to my post on former US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being questioned by Stanford University students about the Bush Administration's 'enhanced interrogation techniques'    

Sam, in your blog you allude to the Quixotic logic of Rice's statement '... if it was authorized by the President, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture,' and seem to dismiss such rationality lightly.

However, the rationale behind this statement seems to go to the heart of the vexed relationship of the US with international law. Rice, I believe, was basing her statement on the reservations made by the US Senate on ratifying the Convention Against Torture, which provide that the Convention will not be self-executing, and is in fact subject to several substantial reservations.

These reservations even go so far as providing for definitions of both 'torture' and 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' that raise the threshold of the definitions provided for in the Convention. With the ability of the US Senate to define international law backing her up, Rice was, according to this logic of American exceptionalism, correct in her analysis.  

Had she been at the Australian National University, I like to think that my colleagues and I, would not only have answered her question as to who stayed the military commission system, but also added that the US Supreme Court did this because the system was considered to be a breach of the both the US Uniform Code of Military Justice and — for what international law is worth in the US context — the treaty obligations of the US under the Geneva Conventions. This reprimand from the Supreme Court seems to discredit her initial statement that the Administration was only willing to act within the confines of the law.