Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has found herself having to explain and defend the United State's policy on torture. Today, while speaking in the Ukraine, Secretary Rice stated that the United States does not condone torture in its interrogation practices of prisoners.
Well. How about that?
She stated that the United States strictly adheres to the United Nation's Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, which was a statement ratified by the United States in 1994. The statement prohibits the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
This is, by far, the most clear statement by an administration official that suggests that this administration does wish to be part of the civilized world.
Of course, the words of Rice do not clarify what the U.S. policy really is. Scott McClellan, the White House Spokeman, said that Secretary Rice's statement represents no change in U.S. policy.
If that were true, then Senator McCain wouldn't be trying to negotiate with the Republicans in Congress and with the White House on legislation that would ban inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.
If that were true, we would not have seen the Justice Department in 2002 issue a legal opinion that interrogation methods were allowable that stopped short of causing pain that might compare with organ failure, the impairment of body function, or death.
If that were true, then we would not have seen an opinion from the Justice Department a year ago that defined torture more broadly yet did not reject prior condoned torture practices, including water boarding (making a person believe they are going to drown), exposure to prolonged and intense cold, or shackling to floors or walls in painfully uncomfortable positions for hours at a time.
Although I wish her speech was an articulation of a new commitment on the part of the Bush administration to ban torture practices, I suspect her true goals are to calm the critics in Europe by telling them what they want to hear (without it actually being the truth), and to short circuit the McCain ban by making it seem unnecessary now that the Bush administration seems to have found its soul.
Unfortunately, her speech falls into the "empty words" column. But, she cannot utter words that tell people what they want to hear without there being repercutions when it turns out there is no reality that matches those words. She may find herself in the same position as Secretary Powell--telling the world lies to serve administration goals. To what end, and at what cost?