A Gift from the State Department

Historically, one advantage of being an American, when traveling abroad, is the knowledge that if one is picked up up by the police in some other country, the State Department will try to intervene to ensure that one will receive treatment that is as fair as possible given the legal constraints of that country. In effect, its meant a lot fewer Americans getting tortured or subjected to kangaroo courts. It hasn’t always worked, but its worked often to give most Americans traveling abroad a sense of security they otherwise wouldn’t have. Having spent a fair share of time abroad, I know the value of that blue passport.

Apparently, things have changed. This story is going around.

The top legal adviser within the US state department, who counsels the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on international law, has declined to rule out the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding even if it were applied by foreign intelligence services on US citizens. John Bellinger refused to denounce the technique, which has been condemned by human rights groups as a form of torture, during a debate on the Bush administration’s stance on international law held by Guardian America, the Guardian’s US website. He said he would not include or exclude any technique without first considering whether it violated the convention on torture.

Here’s how I interpret this: the State Department has no problem with the police in some foreign country applying some of the fine tools practiced at Gitmo to American tourists traveling abroad. I wonder how long the average retirees on a cruise of Central America or a bus tour of Egypt are going to be able stand waterboarding and going without sleep before they confess to something that can get them locked up for life, and how much much money they’ll have to wire for charges to be dropped. On the other hand, maybe the smarter approach is to go after backpacking college kids. Regardless, the Administration just handed corrupt cops abroad one heck of a shakedown tool.