Where to draw the line?

Here are some thoughts for readers.

It is reported that former US Sen Scott Brown (R-MA) has been nominated by the Trump administration to be US ambassador to New Zealand. Besides a record that includes being a centrefold model, party to a sexual harassment lawsuit, and an undistinguished US Senator after a career in local politics in his home state, Mr. Brown is on record as saying that he supports the use of water boarding and other forms of torture. This is of particular note because Mr. Brown is a lawyer who served in the Massachusetts National Guard as a Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) officer, that is, as part of the Army legal system. He should therefore presumably be familiar with Jus in Bello, Jus ad Bellum and other international conventions that, among other things, prohibit the use of torture in war and peacetime.

NZ is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, which prohibits torture (as a war crime). It also supports the International Court of Justice, which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity (which include torture).

Every country has the right to refuse to accept the credentials of foreign ambassador-designates.

So the question is: as a responsible member of the international community and a strong supporter of the rule of international law, should NZ refuse to accept Scott Brown as the incoming US ambassador? Or should it adopt a policy of diplomatic necessity and cast a blind eye on Mr. Brown’s support for state-sanctioned criminal acts in order to curry favour with the Trump administration?

And, as a sidebar: Inspector General of Security and Intelligence Cheryl Gwyn is currently undertaking a lengthy investigation into whether NZ, via the SIS and/or NZDF, was involved in the extraordinary rendition and black site programs run by the US under the Bush 43 administration (which involved the extrajudicial kidnapping and secret detention without charge of suspected Islamicists, several of whom wound up dead as a result of their treatment while in captivity). These  programs included the use of water boarding and other forms of torture as supposed interrogation techniques at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay (Camp Xray) as well as a network of black sites around the world (not all of whom have been identified yet and which it is possible Ms. Gwyn’s investigation might shed light on). Given this background, will the decision on Mr. Brown’s acceptability as the US ambassador be indicative of what we can expect from the government when it comes to her findings?

I would love to hear your opinions.

17 thoughts on “Where to draw the line?

  1. Mr. Brown is also a politician of wide experience who will likely make a good ambassador. Trump himself believes water boarding is okay, so it is not as if he will be misrepresenting his boss.

    If we refused foreign representatives based on the fact that they believe things abhorrent to us, we would have diplomatic relations with very few nations. Certainly not China, most Asian and most Middle Eastern countries.

  2. Ha Ha, thanks Cam. Must be having a senior moment and got to confusing GOP troglodytes. All fixed now.

  3. MacD:

    The difference being that we expect representatives of liberal democracies, especially those from the self-proclaimed greatest democracy on earth, to adhere to some basic standards of decency, to say nothing of international norms. Plus, saying that it is all good because Trump likes torture is not exactly the same as offering a reasoned defense of the case for torture (such as the so-called “ticking bomb” scenario).

  4. I’m not familiar with Brown, but given what you say about his supposed record on torture, absolutely NZ *should* refuse to accept him as ambassador. Or at least not accept him until he “clarifies” his position on the international conventions prohibiting torture.

    Of course, actual NZ government will do nothing of the sort.

  5. Mr. Brown is also a politician of wide experience who will likely make a good ambassador.

    The ex-centerfold model, Fox News commentator and lawyer apparently ignorant of the law is also facing a possible Federal Trade Commission investigation over his financial interest in a product he endorsed, and sexual harrassment lawsuit (according to Wikipedia. On that basis, he’ll certainly represent the Trump administration pretty well, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing for New Zealand.

  6. Given it’s now official US policy to support torture, the personal opinions of the ambassador don’t seem to matter.

    Let’s imagine Brown was replaced with somebody who didn’t have his personal record of support for torture. This hypothetical replacement would still be a pro-torture ambassador, because they’d be bound to represent the views and policies of the US government, which is now pro-torture (or at least the Executive branch is, and that’s the most relevant branch).

    The only way for New Zealand to meet its obligations under the Geneva Convention would be to refuse any US ambassador until the US changes its stance.

    (And probably a bunch of other countries too; after all, the US is hardly unique in practicing and advocating torture).

  7. Ataturk, you are wrong. The USG policy since Obama came to office is to eschew torture and in fact condemn it. He ordered it to case and so it has (unless there is some rogue operation going on somewhere). Trump has supported the use of torture and Brown has done likewise. But until it is given as an order to the CIA and DoD, it has no status in policy, much less law. CIA director Pompeo, who earlier said that he thought that torture was permissible in certain instances, has now backtracked on that view. DoD Secretary former general “Maddog” Mattis has flatly rejected torture and publicly said that it does not work.Likewise, JCS Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford has dismissed any thought of resorting to it, as well as Trump’s suggestion that the US commit war crimes in the fight against Daesh. So it is not US policy at this time.

    Thus, the US can nominate an ambassador who is not a supporter of torture or Brown can disavow his earlier comments, but NZ does not have to accept someone who advocates for or supports the use of torture. And it should not.

    It is very possible that the media reports about Brown are a trial balloon flown to gauge reaction to the possibility of his nomination. I say this because I understand that other names are being floated as well.

  8. I think given Trump’s clear predilections on this matter and the executive branches high discretion in this area, the fact that the Obama policy hasn’t yet been changed is really just a matter of him not getting around to it.

    But would you agree that, should Trump reverse the Obama era rulings and return to a practice of torture (or for that matter, should it just go ahead with torturing despite its own rules), NZ must, to meet its Geneva obligations, reject all US ambassadors?

    Note that I am not talking about ending diplomatic relations with the USA, just leaving the position permanently vacant, as the position of NZ ambassador to the USSR was in the 80s (although admittedly that wasn’t the Soviet’s initiative but Wellington’s).

  9. That is an interesting but improbable hypothetical.

    I guess if the ambassador nominee states his opposition to torture and it is not “official” policy, all should be good. Or the NZ govt could adopt its version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I like the idea of leaving the position vacant if the US officially adopts torture as an interrogation method, but that could be akin to cutting your nose to spite your face since most of the embassy work is done by the N.2 person in the embassy (Deputy Chief of Mission or Charge d’Affairs) anyway. Refusing to accept an ambassadorial nominee would just piss Trump off and lead to needless confrontation and possible retaliation since he is clearly not dealing with a full deck.

    But I do not think that will happen. The US military certainly will not, and the US intelligence community very likely will not, return to torture. Mr. Trump may want it, Mr. Brown may like it, but better people than them will refuse to commit criminal acts on their behalf, if for no other reason than to protect their own skins.

    So the issue returns to the matter of whether NZ should accept a pro-torture ambassadorial nominee in the person of Mr. Brown. I say no, just to make the point to the Trump administration that even little countries know the difference between right and wrong and will stand on principle when necessary even in then face of “heavying” but a larger ally (to say nothing of the fact that doing so reaffirms NZ’s commitment to all of its other international obligations).

    You have not addressed the issue of the IG’s investigation into SIS complicity in extraordinary rendition, black sites and torture by the US during the Bush 43 years. That could be a game changer if it turns out that NZ assets were complicit and could force the NZ government’s hand one way or the other (i.e. the government either lets it slide as a bygone of an unhappy era or uses her findings to punish those involved). Depending on how it resolves that question (again, assuming that the IG finds out that there was NZ involvement), then the issue of what to do with Mr. Brown or another pro-torture nominee becomes clearer.

    One housekeeping matter. You have now given three different IP addresses and a false email address and website information on this thread. One of the IPs is a European shell or mask IP that I have seen before, one is a Singtel address from Singapore (rather than Starhub SG addresses that also provide easy IP covers) and the other presumably is your home computer or some other non-work device here in NZ.

    I do not have any issue with discussing matters with you on the blog with you using a pseudonym. But I do have issue with violations of our policy on comments. If it turns out that your work is such that you must disguise your IP address, then just use a personal IP for commenting, and provide a real email address. You should not be reading blogs at work anyway.

    Otherwise I will be forced to block you.

  10. @Pablo: My employer has a more relaxed attitude to blogging at work than you do :-D

    I’m curious do you routinely look up the IP address of every commenter, or just the ones who disagree with you?

  11. Yes, certain employers do and in fact require such canvassing as part of the job.. But masking the real IP is laughable given tracking technologies and only serves to get you blocked for being a jerk.

    And yes, I monitor every IP that comes across KP. So you are not special, just persistent in your dishonesty.

  12. What would you say if I told you my workplace requires its employees to work from behind a VPN, and that we have one based in Germany, and one in Singapore?

  13. I would say cool about the requirement, and would hope that you have more than just those two proxies. In the pre-internet age (80s-90s) my various employers restricted electronic data communications to in-house networks (such as they were), with voice communications going through secure phones, so I am aware of the reasons why some employers prefer to mask communications. That said, this era is a friggin’ nightmare of unsecured blather across an array of mediums, so using proxies to disguise work communications/browsing etc addresses just part of the problem. As they say, beware the backdoor.

    I would ask that at a minimum you provide a valid email address, even if you only use it to communicate with KP.

  14. Well done, Pablo.

    I suspected it earlier, but it was clear to me as from Ataturk’s posting at 1738 hrs yesterday, that he (or maybe she) was just being a jerk. Thank you for putting him in his place.

    All he had to do was wait until he got home from work yesterday and then start communicating with you on his home PC/private e-mail address. But, oh no, he had to be a pretentious prat, as particularly evidenced by his post at 2200 hrs.

  15. Thanks Steve.

    I am not too fussed about him (as I have an idea of who he is). He has appeared here under other guises as well, which is not nice and has seen some of his aliases blocked (I prefer tracking IPs to blocking them just to see who is using proxies). Since he has not gone full troll (as of yet), I can tolerate his presence. Heck, I allow Paul Scott and Redbaiter to comment here so ole Ataturk pales in comparison!

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