On Torture: Win One for the Gipper!

It would be hard to pick the stupidest meme floating among the
Beltway stenographic pool, but it might just be the claim that the
demand for accountability for torture comes from figures on the left
wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, opposition to torture is hardly
a left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican sort of issue.
But in Beltwelt, the "realities" of partisan politics offer an answer
to every question.

Those who have taken the time to learn something about the history
of the issue know that in the American setting, opposition to torture
and insistence on its prohibition as a tool for warfare come from the
Republican Party. The first prohibition issued from Abraham Lincoln
(General Orders No. 100 from 1863), and it came from the pen of Francis
Lieber, a Columbia law professor and leader of the Union League. The
idea was propelled forward by figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Elihu
Root, who famously called the push to make this prohibition a part of
international law a tribute to Lincoln and one of the principal foreign
policy accomplishments of the Republican Party. So if we're putting a
label on the opposition to torture, it surely wouldn't be marked

So when did the G.O.P. go off the tracks on torture? It was under
George W. Bush. In fact, the last pre-Bush dynasty Republican leader
had unmistakable ideas about torture. His name was Ronald Reagan. He
championed U.S. ratification of the Convention Against Torture. Here's
what Reagan had to say about the Convention back in 1988:

It marks a significant step in the development during
this century of international measures against torture and other
inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the
United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture,
an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for
international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers
relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Note that word: required. Not "encouraged." No qualification about doing it when it's politically expedient to do so, as David Broder envisions.

Moreover, Reagan was serious about the prohibition on torture. In 1983, the Reagan Justice Department secured a conviction
of a Texas sheriff named James Parker on grounds that he waterboarded a
suspect in an effort to get information. Parker got a ten-year sentence
for his crime.

So here's another charge for the prosecutors who will shortly
undertake an investigation of the Bush era torture program: Go win one
for the Gipper!

H/t Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan.

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