Monday, February 21, 2005

The Spanish press seems to be putting as much emphasis on the low turnout for yesterday's non-binding referendum on the European Constitution as on the fact that the large majority of the 42% who came out voted yes. I would have voted yes, too. Some of my more libertarian, anti-statist friends disagree strongly with me, and they have a lot of very good points, but I don't think this constitution does much more than codify the current regulations of the EU. I have as many complaints as anyone else about the imperfections of the EU structure and its thick-headed bureaucracy, and I too support the idea of having as small a government as possible, but things in Europe are going pretty well along about now.

(Digression: Rule Number One of international politics is that people vote with their feet. This is why they want to leave places like Mexico and Morocco and go to places like America and Spain. If you are a place that people are risking their lives to reach, you are doing a pretty good job in general, so Europe ain't nearly as badly off as some conservative Europeans in despair over the large state sector of their economies think. Other comments: Note that there's been no flood of refugees leaving Iraq. Note also that at least a couple million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan. Note in addition that absolutely nobody except for a few crazy expatriates [NOT "ex-patriots", that's a horrible ignorant mistake to make and I've seen it in print] like me emigrates from the United States, while there are quite a few Europeans, at least a million, who have moved to the States. A lot of these people will go back home at some time or another, but I bet at least half of them stay.)

I admit not having read the whole Constitution, though I have read the press reports on its contents fairly thoroughly, and I'm pretty sure that if there were anything horribly scandalous in the Constitution somebody like Libertad Digital would have informed us. One of the major factors creating my opinion is that my favorite Spanish political party, the PP, supported the treaty, and I tend to go along with what those guys recommend, since I figure Aznar and Rajoy and Rato are probably the smartest people in Spain and if they're for it, then it can't be too awful. Also, most of the active opposition came from groups I despise like Esquerra Republicana and the Spanish Communist Party, not to mention Le Pen and his neo-fascists (who we should not forget came in second in the last French presidential election). So if those dopes are against it and the PP is for it, I reckon it's probably a pretty good idea.

As an American citizen, I support the closer integration of the European countries. Anything that more closely unites the Europeans, who got more than two hundred million people killed around the world during the 20th century with their world wars and their Fascism and Communism, under a democratic system is fine with me. I'm not afraid of France dominating a more united EU: I figure Britain, the Eastern Europeans, and the NATO Nordics will keep them under control. I am also not afraid of European competition with the United States; we are not going to go to war against one another. Our peoples will not let us. There is no way you could get the American people to support an invasion of, say, Ireland or Greece or Portugal, even if you were crazy enough to suggest it, and there is no way you'd ever convince the Europeans to go to war with America, either.

Non-military competition, in economics and business and technology and science, is good for everybody and I hope Europe will become much more competitive with the United States than it is now. A kick in the butt from Europe would do American society a world of good, kind of like the kick in the butt we got from the Japanese in the late '70s and early '80s. I do not think this treaty will impede that butt-kicking from happening, though I'm not sure it will help much, either.

Meanwhile, the deal in the Middle East is getting done. Israel began turning loose the 500 Palestinian prisoners they promised they would. This is an excellent step forward, and when Sharon pulls the Israeli settlements out of Gaza, it will be proof to the whole world that Israel means what it says and is willing to make concessions in its honest desire for peace. The Arab states and the Palestinians should (and I think they will) lose all legitimacy they still hold in European eyes if they continue with anti-Israeli terrorism.

I have a considered comment to make on torture. It seems that there is solid evidence that a prisoner died at Abu Ghraib while being hung up by the arms; at least this is my understanding. It is also my understanding that at the very least severe psychological pressure is being applied to prisoners at Guantanamo with the goal of making them talk, and that we are not being informed of what the CIA or other intelligence agencies might be doing.

My standard is that psychological pressure is legitimate if there are grounds to believe that a person has knowledge that might determine the life or death of American or allied troops or innocent civilians. This pressure must be carried out by official interrogators only, not by ordinary guards, who should be held to the standards of guards in American military prisons where U.S. soldiers convicted of crimes are held. All cases of guards meting out psychological pressure or physical torture must be severely punished.

By psychological pressure I mean sleep deprivation, humiliation, good cop-bad cop treatment, lying to them, frightening them, intimidating them, playing Barney music 24 hours a day, forcing them to watch film of their bloody work over and over, making them eat pork or nothing, isolating them, and threatening them with deportation to less savory countries where they are wanted by authorities (and then actually deporting them if they don't cooperate), not to mention anything else they can think of. This is legitimate if ordered by interrogation officers for the express purpose of getting information, and military lawyers should be informed of what is being done, who it is being done to, and what the results are.

Physical torture should be verboten under all circumstances, period. Yeah, we all know the extreme example of having Osama in your hands half an hour before the planes hit. Of course you torture the hell out of him to make him talk and if he dies so what. Get medieval on his ass. But that is a very extreme example, and under 99.9% of circumstances there is no justification for torturing people physically. The Gestapo and the KGB do that, not us. At least that's the way it should be.

No comments: