Dishonoring Reagan

April 27, 2009

The most damning argument yet against Bush torture apologists:

The UN Convention on Torture, which Ronald Reagan signed and championed, is very clear and its definition of what torture is obviously broad and inclusive. There’s actually a good discussion of it at Hot Air, which reproduces the legal definition thus:

Article 1.
1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2.
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

As I watched Obama’s inauguration speech from my couch, in my pajamas, I had the same feeling I would hear reflected over and over in pundits’ comments: “… missed opportunity”, “a ‘good’ speech”, “not one of his best”.

However as they kept replaying lines throughout the day I started realizing just how much weight there was to each of them, and also just what he might have been trying to accomplish.

I’ve been meaning to write about this, and yesterday Frank Rich said so eloquently what I struggled to put into words.  I urge you to read the piece to better understand how Obama sees himself in history, how he is approaching the next four years, and why this speech will be so important in the future.

In my own words:

  • His austere but hopeful and reassuring tone was intended not for a quick jolt (which would be useless), but to give us strength and solace the next four years as we get through the worse.
  • He reminded us that we are all guilty, not just the ‘greedy bankers’, and therefore each of us has a duty to toil in the rebuilding effort.
  • He described sacrifice in terms of each one of us giving up a little compensation rather than seeing our neighbors lose their job altogether.

His subtle but clear indictment of Reagan and clean break with the small-government conservative philosophy was also starling.