Friday, April 29, 2005

Torture Debate

Columbia just sponsored an interesting debate on how our Constitutional system can deal with torture. I’m glad to see someone intelligent try and actually lay out the reasons that neither the Geneva Conventions nor federal statute prohibit torture of suspected terrorists – if only to see how weak those arguments are.

The discussion that the GC only exists in terms of repudiating Germany’s crimes show what Prof. Grimsley said about rules of war tend to be formulated for the main purpose of criticizing your enemy’s conduct, and never an intention to tie your own hands.

I have to admit that Prof. Yoo PO’ed me when he opened with “First, I would like to say that it is a welcome change to leave the People's Republic of Berkeley to come to Columbia.” Coming from a university stereotyped for its liberalness myself, I really hate when conservatives (or any ideology) who were hired by a university (and I assume everything else in terms of support), criticize that university for being intolerant towards the beliefs they hold and preach. So I may not have really given his arguments enough respect. Still, to say that the democratic checks against torture have been legitmately exhausted because Bush was re-elected, seems absurd.

And this gets to one of my bigger worries about the two party system (especially in the party-minimalist democracy that I often argue for). The party that the majority of the public backs may fit with a majority of the public’s view on some policy issues, but not others, and those bad views are simply viewed as the cost, since you are limited in choices. Ideally, eventually the parties would be opportunistic enough that whenever it is in agreement with the public on N issues, the opposition would be in agreement with the public on N+1 issues. But even a little inefficiency and slowness can prevent that from happening, and then the entire competitive “race to the bottom” stalls. Particularly when you contrast issues that are “expensive” for a party to hold (like tying the intelligence departments’ hands) compared to ones that are “cheap” to hold (like condemning commerical culture).


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