Monday, December 05, 2005

Weasel Words 101

Lately, I've been dissecting much of what Conservative leader Stephen Harper has said by reading between the lines of what he has said - or by pointing out the obvious omissions that he has made.

Today, we get an object lesson in weasel wording from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she departed for a tour of Europe.

Consider the following:

We must track down terrorists who seek refuge in areas where governments cannot take effective action, including where the terrorists cannot in practice be reached by the ordinary processes of law.

Uh-huh - and that would be where in North America? Please explain this to me. Come to think of it, through any country that has a standing government which ostensibly has a system of law?

The United States, and those countries that share the commitment to defend their citizens, will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists. Protecting citizens is the first and oldest duty of any government. Sometimes these efforts are misunderstood. I want to help all of you understand the hard choices involved, and some of the responsibilities that go with them.

I see - so if other countries see the US shuttling prisoners around on secret air flights, we're supposed to turn a blind eye? When that flight is going through non-US airspace? Really - how interesting.

One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with captured individuals who we know or believe to be terrorists. The individuals come from many countries and are often captured far from their original homes. Among them are those who are effectively stateless, owing allegiance only to the extremist cause of transnational terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And some have information that may save lives, perhaps even thousands of lives.

The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have to adapt. Other governments are now also facing this challenge.

Uh huh - so you hold them in legal limbo in Guantanamo Bay, and deny that they have a right to any form of due process. Or, like Richard Reid or Jose Padilla simply get locked up and the key thrown away.

Frankly, this is biggest load of cow manure I've heard in a long time. This is nothing more than a self-justification of the Bush Administration's disregard for due process and the rule of law.

We consider the captured members of al-Qaida and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing innocents. We must treat them in accordance with our laws, which reflect the values of the American people.

The "rules of war", I believe, are pretty well spelled out in the Geneva Conventions - which don't describe anything called an "unlawful combatant". This is another Bush-created fiction to justify ignoring the rights Prisoners of War.

Rendition is a vital tool in combating transnational terrorism. Its use is not unique to the United States, or to the current administration. Last year, then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet recalled that our earlier counterterrorism successes included "the rendition of many dozens of terrorists prior to September 11, 2001."

In any other context, I believe this would actually be called kidnapping. Because government agencies are involved, we find them wrapping it up in a new piece of "BureauSpeak". After recent incidents where Canadian Citizens have been "Renditioned" to Syria, it seems likely to me that prohibitions on torture don't mean a heck of a lot.

-- The United States has respected -- and will continue to respect -- the sovereignty of other countries.

-- The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.

-- The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured.

-- The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.

Note the careful wording of these sentences. "For the purpose of interrogation using torture" - it doesn't exclude interrogation, and merely requires the destination country to pledge not to use torture. As is well documented, such pledges don't mean a heck of a lot to many governments around the world.

Also, note the careful phrasing of the clauses such that they do not deny allegations of secret flights (undocumented, uncharted etc.) through foreign countries, nor does it deny allegations of secret prisons off US soil.

Clearly, the US government is playing semantic games. They are carefully phrasing their position on things so that they have "plausible deniability". For the average citizen, this is a warning sign. The government knows damn good and well what they are doing is at the very least unpalatable and immoral, and quite possibly illegal. What other changes are they making that are illegal, or infringe upon civil rights and freedoms in the cause of a fictional enemy?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Semantics... Carefully read over the quote again...

We must track down terrorists who seek refuge in areas where governments cannot take effective action, including where the terrorists cannot in practice be reached by the ordinary processes of law.

Now, consider this. Isn't she really saying that to track down terrorists we need to circumvent due legal process... when the laws no longer apply to those who are tracking down the lawless, the line really begins to blur. What is acceptable - and what is not? Oops! The laws don't apply, so forget reading them their rights, or having to charge them before holding them ad infinitum... those little irritants that get in the way of True Justice (TM)