Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Text, Subtext, and Pretext

Sorry, this post isn't going to be nearly as sophisticated (or pretentious) as that title implies. But sometimes words just go together. Especially when they have the same roots. Natch.

Anyway, is it possible that the Bush Administration can find another way to piss on the Geneva Convention? Funny you should ask. According to this Los Angeles Times story, the answer is yes, in connection with the Bush administration's effort to bar United States military personnel who were captured and tortured during Desert Storm from collecting damages from Iraq for their injuries.

What's interesting about the story is what's left out -- a motive distinct from the administration's cover story (that Iraq needs whatever money it has). I would submit that there's another reason, related to the administration's flat refusal to affiliate the United States with any international criminal court. Because even if, as a matter of policy, we don't consider turnabout to be fair play, it can still provide a compelling public narrative. We didn't like the idea of an international criminal court, because by any rational international law that had any teeth whatsoever, there would be more than a small probability that American officers and perhaps even policy makers would ultimately be named as defendants. Imagine Cheney or Kissinger at the defense table. That's what they imagined, too, and that's why we wanted no part with it.

To that same end, what do you think happens once a precedent is set that wrongfully tortured individuals (if there is any other kind), combatants even, can seek monetary relief in an appropriate jurisdiction. Hel-lo McFly, anybody in there? Yeah, exactly. That's what we're really afraid of.

But even absent the subtext I suggest is at work here, just look at the face of it: the Bush administration arguing that it needn't abide yet another aspect of the Geneva Convention, and saying, in no uncertain terms, tortured American soldiers are entitled to nothing, except perhaps the thanks of a grateful nation. Just when you think it can get no more surreal . . . .

(Hat tip, tonypierce.)

UPDATE: And in keeping with the subject of obscene and perverse conduct, it's about to get a whooooooole lot more expensive to lose a couple of buttons at the wrong time.

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