The Kansas City Star finally published my letter to the editor on torture – tiny URL: first part and tiny URL: second part.  I first wrote about my submission to the paper in a post on Show Me Progress titled: “Limited use of torture” in the Kansas City Star.

The online comments at the Star’s “Unfettered Letters” forum associated with my letter are a sad commentary on the state of our nation. tiny URL

The letter:

Torture is never OK

I’m not surprised to read a letter to the editor advocating crimes against humanity (11/21, “Limited use of torture“), 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 OK, don’t you think?

Michael Bersin

Warrensburg, Mo.

Yep, those comments are the real pieces of work.

The second comment:

The naivete of Professor Bersin knows no bounds. He concludes that wars are fought according to rules written by the Marquis of Queensberry.

Good intel often determines the course of the battle, and the war…

I don’t recall signing my letter “professor”. Somebody is watching me!

I don’t recall my letter mentioning anything about war. I don’t recall the letter advocating torture mentioning anything about war. Did Congress do something and not tell the rest of us?

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8

The Congress shall have power to…To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water…

Another comment:

…How far do you go with Michael? Do you agree with the prohibition “even if “the life of the nation is threatened”? If Michael is indeed a Professor he may be inflicting a lifelong handicap on his students…

I guess possessing critical thinking is considered a handicap by some people. Or maybe ignorance is a virtue.

United States Constitution, Article VI

all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land

Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, Section 2340. (1) ”torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control; (2) ”severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from – (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (C) the threat of imminent death; or (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and (3) ”United States” includes all areas under the jurisdiction of the United States including any of the places described in sections 5 and 7 of this title and section 46501(2) of title 49.

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention Against Torture)

Article 3 . 1. No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. 2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Article 4. 1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.  2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Article 16. 1. Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

2. The provisions of this Convention are without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument or national law which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or which relates to extradition or expulsion.

Treaties in Force. November 20, 1994.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Article 4. 1 . In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.

2. No derogation from articles 6, 7, 8 (paragraphs I and 2), 11, 15, 16 and 18 may be made under this provision. 3. Any State Party to the present Covenant availing itself of the right of derogation shall immediately inform the other States Parties to the present Covenant, through the intermediary of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, of the provisions from which it has derogated and of the reasons by which it was actuated. A further communication shall be made, through the same intermediary, on the date on which it terminates such derogation.

Article 7. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.

Treaties in Force. September 8, 1992.

As further evidence that newspaper blogs really suck one of the commenters blathers on about bringing “the real world of ‘kill or be killed'” to the conversation whilst “sipping a good scotch and smoking good cigars”. Go read it, it’s got to be straight from an unsolicited 24 script written and submitted by an anxious 14 year old. So much for the rule of law and the Constitution.

Yup, as a people, we really do get or morality, ethics, and legal knowledge from television melodramas. Well, some people get it:

The ones who argue that “torture has existed in every war” (therefore it’s okay now; we just need to look the other way) seem to be proving Mr. Bersin’s point…