Freedom on the March

by Kieran Healy on December 3, 2004

The “news services report”: the latest effort by legal officials of the U.S. Government to get Americans to agree that the use of torture by the military is no big deal:

WASHINGTON — U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants are allowed to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government conceded in court Thursday. The acknowledgment by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle came during a U.S. District Court hearing on lawsuits brought by some of the 550 foreigners imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The lawsuits challenge their detention without charges for up to three years so far.

Attorneys for the prisoners said some were held solely on evidence gained by torture, which they said violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due-process standards. But Boyle argued in a similar hearing Wednesday that the prisoners “have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon asked whether a detention would be illegal if it were based solely on evidence gathered by torture, because “torture is illegal. We all know that.” Boyle replied that if the military’s combatant status-review tribunals “determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due-process clause prohibits them from relying on it.”

I look forward to some analysis of this exchange by a good lawyer. (A good lawyer with some sense about “what issues”: are “worth their time”:, I mean.) It seems to me that the government wants to let military tribunals do whatever they like. Boyle’s claim seems to be that in balancing the reliability of any piece of evidence against its “questionable provenance” (i.e., whether it was beaten out of a detainee), the status-review tribunal should not only lean towards reliability but also get to pick and choose how questionable a “provenance” is too questionable.

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Sticker shock

by Henry Farrell on December 3, 2004

“Dan Drezner”: recommends Kenneth Waltz’s Man, The State and War as one of his December books of the month. This reminds me of something that I’ve always been curious about – the eyepopping price of Waltz’s even more influential Theory of International Politics (only $73.43 in paperback to you mate, with free Super Saver shipping). It’s not so expensive because there’s low demand – every graduate student in international relations has to read it. So is this just a simple case of gouging by the publisher, or is there some other reason why it’s so expensive?[1]

Update: “Alex Tabarrok”: at Marginal Revolution suggests that the problem is that these are textbooks assigned by professors who don’t have to buy the books themselves, and draws an analogy with health care. My best guess is that this isn’t the problem in this case – I don’t think that “Theory of International Politics” is usually assigned to undergraduate classes (it’s pretty dense, with lots of philosophy of science discussion _inter alia_). Instead, as Daniel suggests in comments, it’s more likely to be an inelasticity of demand problem – pretty well every serious IR academic has to have a copy on his or her shelves. If there’s an analogy to healthcare, it’s not that the key decisions are made by the people who don’t pay the costs, it’s that (like life-saving drugs etc), the demand is inelastic enough that suppliers can extract substantial rents.

Update 2: “Matt Yglesias”: describes my comment that “it’s not so expensive because there’s low demand” as being ‘rather naive’ – he’s misunderstanding what I’m getting at here. Academic presses do sometimes publish books for which there’s low demand, and need to charge a lot for each individual copy of the book in order to recoup their costs. What I’m saying is that this very clearly isn’t one of those cases. As Matt (and d-squared, and I) suggest, the probable reason why Waltz’s book is as expensive as it is because of inelasticity of demand with respect to price. Basic monopoly pricing, in other words.

fn1. Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s similarly indispensable Power and Interdependence lends support to the price-gouging hypothesis – it’s $65.60 in paperback.

Family values

by Chris Bertram on December 3, 2004

Via “Lance Knobel”: , this “astonishing story”: from the Financial Times:

bq. US distributors of the film Merchant of Venice, which premiered in London this week, have asked the director to cut out a background fresco by a Venetian old master so it is fit for American television viewers…
According to [director Michael] Radford, there was “a very curious request which said ‘Could you please paint-box out the wallpaper?’. I said wallpaper, what wallpaper? This is the 16th century, people didn’t have wall-paper.”
When he examined the scenes, he realised the letter was referring to frescoes by Paolo Veronese, the acclaimed Venetian 16th-century artist, which, when examined closely, showed a naked cupid.
“A billion dollars worth of Veronese great master’s frescoes they want paint-boxed out because of this cupid’s willy. It is absolutely absurd,” he said.