12:43 pm, May 22, 2005
Call it the dumbing down of torture. In Fox TV's show, “24,” an anti-terror cop puts down his badge to “disassociate himself” from his agency, and goes rogue on a terror suspect, breaking his fingers until he coughs up the truth. Damn good thing, since the lives of innocent Americans are saved thereby.
Whole lotta fallacies in that line of reasoning. (a) That Americans are innocent, (b) that torture produces the truth, (c) that the truth would be usable as evidence in a criminal case, and (d) that a cop who tortures a suspect would be anything other than a criminal. I address these fallacies in order:
The first notion is refuted by the Iraqi death toll since we blessed their nation with democracy, began torturing these beneficiaries of our generosity and machine-gunning them in their automobiles, and installed Achmed Chalabi (the real “Comeback Kid”) as their oil-field overseer.
The second notion, thoroughly asinine in its assumption that the use of torture will inject more “truth” into the system, was conclusively disproved by the Spanish Inquisition, that coerced whole towns full of people into admitting to practicing witchcraft that they'd never even conceived of practicing. The only people who understood witch-law in those days were the witch prosecutors, working for the Vatican under an anti-terror law called a “Papal Bull” adopted by the ironically-named “Pope Innocent.” The average “witch” was just a person who knew that it would go easier on them if they just said what their torturers wanted. Such systems produce wonderful stoolies, make liars out of honest people, and turn the search for truth into a horror show of invention. Under a torture-supporting regime, terrorism thrives, as it still does in every nation where torture is state policy. Israel is probably the biggest example of such a nation, which legislatively legalized torture under the name of “moderate physical and psychological pressure” in 1987, until the Supreme Court decided not to authorize “illegal interrogations” except in the case of “necessity.” During this time period, Israel did not make any progress against the Palestinian resistance, and in fact, suicide bombing became de mode. And why not? It's one sure way of avoiding capture and torture at the hands of the Israelis.
The third notion, that the coerced statement would be usable in a criminal trial, is clearly not the law outside of Fox-land.
"U.S. Supreme Court"
We have likewise established the Miranda exclusionary rule as a prophylactic measure to prevent violations of the right protected by the text of the Self-Incrimination Clause--the admission into evidence in criminal case of confessions obtained through coercive custodial questioning. Chavez v. Martinez
The fourth notion — that torturer cops are anything but felons with badges — runs directly afoul of the law, because there is no “police exemption” from the torture statutes that are on the books in all fifty states. Indeed, causing a person's death by torture is grounds for capital punishment in virtual all states. Of course some people might say that capital punishment itself is torture, so that would be the exception that proves the rule. Additionally, the Federal Government specifically outlaws the practice of torture in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where many soldiers are being given the equivalent of traffic court fines for acts that clearly violate 18 U.S.C. 2340A, which provides:
"The Extraterritorial Torture Law — 18 U.S.C. 2340A"
a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life. (b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if— (1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or (2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender. (c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.