Obama Takes a Good Half Step Toward an Unequivocal Ban on Torture


It’s worth mentioning that the Obama administration has finally decided to take a more expansive view of where torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” are banned:

The Obama administration, after an internal debate that has drawn global scrutiny, is taking the view that the cruelty ban applies wherever the United States exercises governmental authority, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. That definition, they said, includes the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and American-flagged ships and aircraft in international waters and airspace.

But the administration’s definition still appears to exclude places like the former “black site” prisons where the C.I.A. tortured terrorism suspects during the Bush years, as well as American military detention camps in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars there. Those prisons were on the sovereign territory of other governments; the government of Cuba exercises no control over Guantánamo.

Why exclude black sites? Administration officials apparently say this is just a “technical matter of interpretation, underlined by concerns that changing the jurisdictional scope could have unintended consequences, like increasing the risk of lawsuits by overseas detainees or making it harder to say that unrelated treaties with similar jurisdictional language did not apply in the same places.”

I can….almost buy that. Lawyers and diplomats get pretty hung up on stuff like this. Nonetheless, I’d be a lot happier if Obama could be a little more Bush-like here, and simply overrule the legal eagles and insist on a clear and unequivocal policy. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a way to do that which wouldn’t somehow wreck a bunch of other treaties at the same time.

So two cheers for doing the right thing. But not three.