The comfy chair*

This is an argument from definition:

Bob is a bachelor, then ipso facto Bob is unmarried–and male.  

This is not:

Q: Is waterboarding torture?

RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So that’s — And by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.

Q: Okay. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

RICE: I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Bob, by the way, might not in fact be unmarried (and therefore not a bachelor) but it is certainly the case that if he were unmarried than by golly the definition of an umarried male is a bachelor.  Now unless the Convention Against Torture includes the provision that anything authorized by a President is not by definition torture, then the President probably has no power under it–logical or otherwise–to make it not torture (or maybe even, in a bizzaro soft pillows way to declare something torture which isn't).  Here, by the way, is the definition of torture in the 1985 United Nations Convention Against Torture:

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.  

*=click here.

3 thoughts on “The comfy chair*”

  1. I don’t know how to understand this remark from Rice. Surely she is an intelligent woman, and this is just a terrible statement, so extremely Nixonian. I guess I am confused because first, it doesn’t seem like the sort of idea that she would agree with (that if the president says something is ok then it is by definition ok), and second, it is a very stupid thing to say publicly, because it is so very Nixonian. So it seems like stupid reasoning that isn’t even politically expedient. One would expect more from such a person–surely she has had ample chance to think these matters through…I wonder whether she will repeat this line of argument in public.

  2. So for a charitable stab at a confused thought, could it be the following.

    1. The President learned from his stable of hacks that the 7 procedures were not torture.
    2. The President authorized the procedures that had been determined not to be torture.
    3. Rice passed this authorization along.

    I take it that the key idea is not that it is torture because the President authorized, but buck passing–I was not authorizing torture because the President had previously been told by Bybee et al. that it was not torture.

    The point of her defense is to establish innocence for everyone down from the President and then hang the defense of the Presidents authorization on the various legal advice he got from his hacks. At worst then they can repudiate the advice after the fact and say “hey we listened to our experts, how can anyone expect the President of the US to exercise wise judgment?” Then they can defend Bybee and the rest by saying, “hey, they were just interpreting the law as they saw best.”  At worst then, this boils down to a case of bad legal advice. So the only worst punishment would be some disbarring and some impeachment.

    Bush’s likely “I was just following my counsel’s legal advice” is a really interesting spin on “just following orders.” And, I think, deeply craven and shameful. If he takes this view of his responsibility, it would show a profound contempt for the office of the presidency.

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