The Corner

“Torture” Inflation

Leave it to the UN technocrats to define “torture” down. Elsewhere, I write about a new report by the special rapporteur on torture, the Argentine human rights activist Juan E. Méndez, to the General Assembly that seeks to define torture in the healthcare context. And guess what? Laws outlawing abortion are viewed as torture.  From my piece:

[The report] brands with that extreme term not only medical actions and omissions that clearly are not torture as most people understand it, but also national policies disfavored by the international ruling class. Thus, “The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute abortion bans as violating the prohibition on torture and ill treatment.” Unstated (but implied) is that pro-life countries like Ireland are committing crimes against humanity.

Other policy disputes are also inflated into torture, e.g., laws requiring sex change surgery before legal sex reassignment, laws that permit a parent to lose custody of a child solely because they use drugs, and mandatory HIV testing for prostitutes “sex workers.” There are also terribly abusive activities included such as involuntary sterilization and female genital mutilation. But even there, “abusive” is not necessarily “torture,” which has  a specific definition.

Conflating policy disagreements with the worst kind of human rights abuses has a distinct purpose:

The broad goal of the U.N. report is to impose universally its preferred ethical worldview. For example, the special rapporteur “calls upon all States” in which abortion is legal to “ensure that services are effectively available.” He also recommends adopting “a human rights-based approach to drug control,” closing all “compulsory drug detention and ‘rehabilitation’ centers,” to be replaced by “rights-based health and social services in the community.” But such policy questions are best addressed by sovereign states, not through an international effort to eliminate torture. 

The political left—which includes the U.N. bureaucracy—loves to redefine words so as to stigmatize controversial policies with which it disagrees. Now, Méndez (who moved to the United States in 1977, after being expelled from Argentina for courageous opposition to the dictatorship) has asked for an official invitation from the U.S. government to assess how much torture we permit in health care settings. Just imagine the New York Times headlines reporting on his visits to, say, states that impose waiting periods before abortions: “Torture in 26 U.S. States!” NARAL will be thrilled.

We shouldn’t have to take any of this seriously. But we had better. This is the direction in which the internationalists want to take us. And if it means that the true horror of torture is watered down by including laws, actions or omissions that aren’t “torture” properly understood, well that’s just the cost of using international law to destroy national sovereignty in the cause of imposing the ruling class’s morality throughout the world.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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