- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Here we go again. Once again, the United States is being painted into a corner as regards a U.N. treaty with a fine and high-minded name attached to it, but also one that would violate the U.S. Constitution. And once again, critics of the United States, from the liberal press at home to do-gooding non-governmental organizations and hostile foreign governments, will have a field day putting an ugly spin on it.
So, here's a heads-up. Expect to hear more about the Draft Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which will be coming up for a vote in the U.N. General Assembly in the next week or two. (The abbreviation is DOPCAT, in typical U.N. speak.) Having been accused in recent years of not caring about the environment, international justice or the plague of landmines, we can now expect the United States to be accused of not caring about the victims of torture around the world.
Why? Because the United States will be refusing to fund by our customary 22 percent of U.N. budgets a torture inspections regime which, for constitutional reasons, the United States cannot sign onto and which, as currently drafted, cannot possibly be effective.
At issue, specifically, is funding for the implementation of the new protocol to the U.N. Convention on Torture. Now, the United States has been a party to the treaty itself for years. The United States is also the largest contributor to the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture. Furthermore, the State Department's Human Rights Report every year documents torture around the world, and often causes a great deal of annoyance among the countries listed as perpetrators. So, it is not as though the U.S. government in any way, shape or form ignores this inhuman practice.
What the United States has objected to is the creation of a new U.N. oversight body. This body would be required to inspect detention facilities in all countries that have signed onto the U.N. Convention on Torture. For instance, inspections are to take place on a rotating and predictable schedule, which makes them pretty much meaningless. Clearly, only unannounced inspections would be effective. ("When did you stop beating your prisoners?" one can imagine the inspectors asking.)
Equally importantly, while the U.S. Constitution protects Americans against "cruel and unusual punishment," i.e. torture, there are issues involving the Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure, which would make international inspections a problem. And like Canada and Switzerland, which have not signed onto the protocol either, the United States is a federation of states, each with a prison system of its own.
The United States has unsuccessfully voiced these objections and, over a 10-year period, tried to negotiate a solution at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The vote in favor of the draft protocol, however, took place this spring forced by Costa Rica in conjunction with the European Union.
The next vote on the agenda, which may take place as early as tomorrow, is for the financing of the inspections regime. By one estimate, the tab could run to $20 million a year, the equivalent of the entire budget for the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Of that, the United States, a non-signatory, would be assigned to pay 22 percent. Sounds like we got snookered again.
This is an old story by now. Time and again, the United States attempts to amend international treaties whose intentions sound laudable, but whose implementation could pose a serious risk to American troops stationed abroad, undermine the American economy or violate American constitutional principles.
The U.S. opposition to the landmine ban, for instance, is often interpreted to mean that the United States has no regard for human life in war-torn countries. On the contrary. American minefields are marked with great precision and meticulously cleared when no longer needed. Furthermore, with U.S. troops stationed in the Korean Peninsula, anti-tank mines are a vital first defense against the million-strong North Korean forces. In fact, the U.S. government attempted to negotiate a landmine ban that would have excluded the anti-tank mines, but failed.
Similarly, the U.S. rejection of the ICC is often blamed on the perceived unilateralism of the Bush administration. But not even the Clinton administration put much faith in the court. Bill Clinton did sign the Rome Protocol, which established the court, but did so on his last day in office, knowing it could not be ratified. And during the treaty negotiations, the United States offered a compromise, which was rejected, that would have placed the court under the jurisdiction of the U.N. Security Council. As it stands now, the court is accountable to no country or international body.
As a matter of routine, other groups and countries, each with their own agenda, do end-runs around our negotiators. And, while these groups may not actually get what they want particularly now that they are faced with the principled opposition of the Bush administration they do acquire another rhetorical stick that can be used to beat up on the United States.
If there is a lesson in the current debacle involving the Convention on Torture, it is surely that the United States needs not just better international diplomacy, but smarter negotiators. Is the White House listening?

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