Amnesty International, Abortion Bans, & Torture

“I’m in awe, Lennier. The way you can take a straightforward, logical proposition and turn it inside out so that, in the end, it says what you want it to say, instead of what it actually means. Did this come naturally, or did you, um, attend some special martial arts class for the philosophically inclined?”

— Marcus Cole, “Grey 17 is Missing“, Babylon 5

As recently noted on Volokh Conspiracy, Amnesty International is denouncing Nicaragua’s abortion laws as potential violations of the Convention Against Torture.

On the one hand, lawyerly ingeniousness, such as that on display in AI’s take on the CAT, is occasionally impressive & amusing.  OTOH…seriously, WTF?

IMHO, the lesson of the Bush administration’s aggressive interrogation policies, & the history of such policies in the US (per Levi) is that we need to more specifically define what constitutes “torture”.  Flush those vague phrases – e.g., “severe physical pain or suffering“, and write specifically into statute that, say, waterboarding = torture.

Admittedly, I’d probably favor such specificity anyway, what with my weird preference for “bright-line” legal rules.  However, one reason underlying that preference is a concern that vagueness may be exploited in unpredictable ways by lawyers, government, etc.  From where I stand, AI’s novel take on CAT is a good illustration of such exploitation, and another argument in favor of clearer definitions.

Update 20090614:  In comments, Sigaliris notes that additional specificity may be both impractical & unnecessary.  Simply deleting the term vague term “severe” from the existing torture statute might suffice.  In retrospect, it appears I was conflating specificity & bright-line rules; the latter doesn’t necessarily require the former.

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