Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rumsfeld: Guantanamo's image "unfortunate"

For anyone that didn't see it, the Rumsfeld interview can be found here. I don't think there's anyone on the face of the planet that would disagree with his statement that America could do a "better job" at communicating their policies to the rest of the world:

"I think the US is notably unskillful in our communications and our public diplomacy," he said in Washington.
Indeed. It's occurred to me before that Bin Laden & Co. have been rather better at "coalition-building" than the Americans; his success in identifying himself with the Palestinian cause - something I doubt he gives a shit about - illustrates this.

It also involves no understatement to say that Guantanamo's reputation around the world was "unfortunate". It's also "unfortunate", in my view, that they haven't drawn the conclusion that the solution to this "image problem" would be to close it down.

The American's general lack of concern with how they are viewed in the world infuriates many people, including myself. However, I think they're like the French in some ways in that their sense of national pride is misunderstood: Guantanamo wasn't an issue in the Presidential campaign in the way that Europeans would expect it to be and pointing out to Americans how this sort of treatment is viewed throughout the world doesn't really get you anywhere. I think if more people took the line that Guantanamo is un-American, they would probably be surprised at the response they would get because theirs is a Republic founded on ideas.

And un-American it certainly is. Those campaigning against the death-penalty in the US have tried to interpret the constitution as backing their case, arguing that, for example, the length of time inmates remain on death-row breeches the constitutional prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment". As an opponent of the death-penalty, I wish them well but this aspect has absolutely nothing to do with the death-penalty and everything to do with the use of torture. The American revolution mirrored the French in this respect: both outlawed torture - it was an article of faith for the Enlightenment thinkers that its use belonged to Europe's medieval, superstitious past - but both retained the death penalty.

And a couple of features of the medieval use of torture need to be remembered: there was never a time when it was not justified by reference to some higher good - and there was never a time when the evidence gained from torture could be considered reliable.

Americans speak in reverential tones about the "founding fathers" of the Republic but too few are reminding Rumsfeld et al what they had to say on the subject of torture.

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