Monday, June 20, 2005


Bill Clinton Calls For Shutting Down Guantanamo

Good for you, Bill:

The Guantánamo detainees have been classified as “unlawful enemy combatants” rather than prisoners of war and are therefore not subject to the Geneva Convention or to US law. The US military has admitted to using coercive interrogation techniques on prisoners but denied that these amount to torture. Mr Clinton said uniformed US military personnel had been “very outspoken” about abuses at Guantánamo and elsewhere. Aside from moral issues, there were two practical objections to the US military abusing prisoners, he said. “If we get a reputation for abusing people it puts our own soldiers much more at risk and second, if you rough up somebody bad enough, they'll eventually tell you whatever you want to hear to get you to stop doing it.”
But of course, the FT reporter had to make sure this was mentioned:
Mr Clinton was careful to avoid criticising the administration on the issue of indefinite detention. In three or four cases, his own administration had resorted to a US law that allows suspected terrorists to be held beyond the normal length of time without trial, if bringing an indictment or trial would compromise intelligence sources.
"Three or four cases". As opposed to the tens of thousands Bush has swept up and jailed without charges. Remember, Biden's sucking up to the right-wing press notwithstanding, Clinton kept a weather eye out for Al-Qaeda pretty much 24/7 ever since the first attempts to blow up the WTC -- and his national security advisor, Sandy Berger, warned Condi Rice that she should do the same. (Berger was rewarded for this by being hauled up on bogus charges of destroying documents -- when the 'documents' were his own copies of notes he'd taken, and were destroyed in order to comply with regulations requiring the destruction of duplicate copies of classified material.) And unlike Bush, Clinton not only got the culprit, but did so via the rule of law as opposed to the law of the jungle. But I digress. Here's Bill again, to wrap things up:
“It sounds so reasonable but you're the guy that is in prison and you are not guilty, you could be held there three, four, five years and there has to be some limit to that,” he said.
Very good, Bill. Now, could you have a little chat with your wife about this? Thanks.

I wouldn't let the Big Dog off too lightly on this, PW. Precedents are deadly things, which is why courts and faculties will spend eternities arguing over what seem to the rest of us to be trivialities.

It's true that there were few cases of "extraordinary rendition" under Clinton, and I also don't know the details of the cases. But it was also in an environment in which there was little public pressure to do anything about terrorism. His actions created a pattern that Bush exploited.

If Clinton had not done so, would it have changed anything Bush has done? Probably not radically, but it would have forced a discussion of the issue earlier.

The battle for human dignity moves forward by inches, and often back by miles.

It's good Clinton is speaking out.
Is this an example of a logical fallacy, of asserting that since this is a difference by degree, then it really isn't a difference at all?

Kinda like saying Michael Moore and Ann Coulter are "just the same," because well, they are different but only by the degree to which their stances vary. Coulter advocates the execution of liberals just to set an example, and Moore opposes the Iraq war. See, it's the same thing! (I am paraphrasing an example posted by somebody in the Eschaton comments several weeks ago.)

True, Clinton should be held to account for these things. But he's no Bush.
One can make an argument that setting the precedent was bad, in and of itself. But I suspect that at the time, Clinton never dreamed that these powers would be abused as blatantly as they have by Bush. (Just as he never dreamed that Louis Freeh, who he appointed to the FBI as a goodwill gesture to the GOP, would return the favor by spending his time looking to undermine Clinton instead of watching out for Al-Qaeda. Or Katrina Leung.)
I think a fallacy of degree would be something like equating someone who steals $1 and someone who steal $1 million, Shrimplate. The law distinguishes between the two. But it does not distinguish between someone who steals $999,999 and someone who steals $1,000,000.

I think your point would be that Bush's abuses have been so much greater that they shouldn't be compared to those that Clinton authorized. I think there is a difference of degree and that the law recognizes it. Clinton's violations, as exceptions to his general comportment, are abuses of power. But Bush's, since they are systematic, are crimes against international law.

I don't want to overwork what is basically a "slippery slope" argument. The slippery slope starts at the Continental Divide, but it's a long way from there to the sea. But precedents are dangerous, especially when they deal with civil liberties. Every time that civil liberties are infringed, as they were in "extraordinary rendition," humankind should stop and take note that the rights of all have been diminished.

You can bet that if Bush is ever brought into the dock as a war criminal, he'll say that he was doing no more than what the policy of his predecessor allowed. Just a bit more often.
Like, massively more often, and in ways no one before him ever dreamed possible, much less ethical or moral.

Look at his abuse of signing statements.
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