The First Salvo In The Next Nuremberg

by dday

A Daily Kos diarist and several other citizens were able to question John Ashcroft last night on the subject of torture. His denials were outright revealing and show the nervousness these people feel.

TOM: This story was made public by ABC a few weeks ago. It claims that you, Rice, Tenet and others met in the White House to discuss different methods of "enhanced interrogation," is that correct?

ASHCROFT: (angrily) Correct? Is what correct? Is it correct that this story ran on ABC? I don't know that. I don't know anything about it! Is it a real story? When was this story, huh? Huh?

TOM: Um, early April, April 9th, I think...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) You think? You think? You don't even know! Next question!

TOM: The article says that you discussed "whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning"...

ASHCROFT: I said, next question!

So when confronted with the fact, Ashcroft deliberately misinterprets the question, asks an irrelevant technicality, (which the kid answered correctly, it was April 9), and uses the technicality to wiggle out of the question. Here the lack of follow-up on the ABC story is crucial, as Ashcroft is able to sow confusion about the story itself because it just hasn't been widely reported.


Another student asked if Ashcroft's position on torture violated the Geneva Conventions or other international laws:

ASHCROFT: No. No it doesn't violate the Geneva Conventions. As for other laws, well, the U.S. is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture. And that convention, well, when we join a treaty like that we send it to the Senate to be ratified, and when the Senate ratifies they often add qualifiers, reservations, to the treaty which affect what exactly we follow. Now, I don't have a copy of the convention in front of me...

ME: (holding up my copy) I do! (boisterous applause and whistling from the audience) Would you like to borrow it?

ASHCROFT: (after a pause) Uh, you keep a hold of it. Now, as I was saying, I don't have it with me but I'm pretty sure it defines torture as something that leaves lasting scars or physical damage...

A STUDENT FROM THE AUDIENCE: Liar! You liar! (the student is shushed by the audience)

ASHCROFT: So no, waterboarding does not violate international law.

Well, that's just not true. The UN human rights chief has said waterboarding should be prosecuted as torture. The definition of the UN Convention Against Torture is right here.

"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...."

And members of the UN Committee Against Torture have agreed that waterboarding falls under it.

Now, watch the sleight-of-hand here, remembering that Ashcroft brought up the UN Convention Against Torture in the first place.

ME: First off, Mr. Ashcroft, I'd like to apologize for the rudeness of some of my fellow students. It was uncalled for--we can disagree civilly, we don't need that. (round of applause from the audience, and Ashcroft smiles) I have here in my hand two documents. One of them, you know, is the text of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which, point of interest, says nothing about "lasting physical damage"...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) Do you have the Senate reservations to it?

ME: No, I don't. Do you happen to know what they are?

ASHCROFT: (angrily) I don't have them memorized, no. I don't have time to go around memorizing random legal facts. I just don't want these people in the audience to go away saying, "He was wrong, she had the proof right in her hand!" Because that's not true. It's a lie. If you don't have the reservations, you don't have anything. Now, if you want to bring them another time, we can talk, but...

Well, actually, he WAS wrong, because he tried to claim that the UN Convention was strictly defined as physical harm. That being wrong, he retreated to the idea of reservations and qualifiers. I have those reservations right here (scroll down for "United States"), and here's the key line:

(1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

Waterboarding simulates drowning (actually, to be more precise, per the comments, it's CONTROLLED drowning). That would fall under the intentional inflicting of suffering and the threat of imminent death.

So, you know, Ashcroft was wrong again.

Now watch Ashcroft try to muddy a clear precedent.

ME: Actually, Mr. Ashcroft, my question was about this other document. (laughter and applause) This other document is a section from the judgment of the Tokyo War Tribunal. After WWII, the Tokyo Tribunal was basically the Nuremberg Trials for Japan. Many Japanese leaders were put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture. And among the tortures listed was the "water treatment," which we nowadays call waterboarding...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) This is a speech, not a question. I don't mind, but it's not a question.

ME: It will be, sir, just give me a moment. The judgment describes this water treatment, and I quote, "the victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach." One man, Yukio Asano, was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor by the allies for waterboarding American troops to obtain information. Since Yukio Asano was trying to get information to help defend his country--exactly what you, Mr. Ashcroft, say is acceptible for Americans to do--do you believe that his sentence was unjust? (boisterous applause and shouts of "Good question!")

ASHCROFT: (angrily) Now, listen here. You're comparing apples and oranges, apples and oranges. We don't do anything like what you described.

ME: I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we still use the method of putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water down their throat...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting, red-faced, shouting) Pouring! Pouring! Did you hear what she said? "Putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water on them." That's not what you said before! Read that again, what you said before!

ME: Sir, other reports of the time say...

ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read what you said before! (cries of "Answer her fucking question!" from the audience) Read it!

ME: (firmly) Mr. Ashcroft, please answer the question.

ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read it back!

ME: "The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach."

ASHCROFT: (shouting) You hear that? You hear it? "Forced!" If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...does this college have an anatomy class? If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...

ME: (firmly and loudly) Mr. Ashcroft, do you believe that Yukio Asano's sentence was unjust? Answer the question. (pause)

ASHCROFT: (more restrained) It's not a fair question; there's no comparison. Next question! (loud chorus of boos from the audience)

Well, if Ashcroft thinks he can bully an international criminal court the way he tried to bully a few college students last night, he's going to come off looking just as foolish. Because Ashcroft had the foresight to say "History will not judge us kindly" during the Principals meetings on torture, some have made the effort to rehabilitate him to a degree. I think we can end that now. He's guilty and he knows it, that's why his arguments were so very shallow. A court of law would convict in a matter of minutes.