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It’s a sign of how debased our national discourse has [be]come when a major metropolitan daily publishes a letter to the editor advocating crimes against humanity.

Limited use of torture [tiny URL]

….Inflicting pain on one person is not as bad as allowing innocent people to die, and the prisoner in this situation can avoid that pain by telling what he knows.

Instead of prohibiting torture, we should regulate how and when it can be used. It should only be used on people we are sure have important information…

“…and the prisoner in this situation can avoid that pain by telling what he knows…”
Or, the prisoner can make a coerced false confession, eh?

This morning I submitted the following letter to the editor in response:

from: Michael Bersin
to: letters@kcstar.com,
date: Nov 21, 2007 8:05 AM
subject: Limited use of crimes against humanity

To the editor:

I’m not surprised to read a letter to the editor in the Star advocating crimes against humanity (“Limited  use of torture” 11/21/07) given the tortured parsing of the present U.S. Attorney General at his confirmation hearing. I shouldn’t be surprised since it’s apparent that, as a nation, we appear to base our morality, ethics, and legal knowledge on the superficial content of television melodramas.

The prohibition of torture is a non-derogable human right – an absolute under federal law, international treaty obligations, and the peremptory norms of international law. That is, no executive order, no law, and no treaty (even if “the life of the nation is threatened”) can remove that prohibition under any circumstances. To do so is a crime against humanity.

There are several other non-derogable human rights. The analogy of police deadly force presented by the letter writer is a false one. If he wanted to provide a proper analogy in his justification of torture he should have written about “Limited use of murder (extra judicial death)” or “Limited use of slavery”. Now, that would convince everyone that it’s all okay, don’t you think?

Michael Bersin