Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I could not stomach watching this abomination, much less writing about it. Fortunately, David Atkins did it for me.

Proud American torturer Jose Rodriguez proudly admitted his crimes on 60 Minutes last night:


See? The fact that there wasn't an attack proves that there was probably a ticking time bomb that was prevented. Even though no ticking time bomb was ever found. That's totally reasonable.

Not that the ticking time bomb defense ever has merit as a basis for legal precedent. It's one of the most infuriatingly stupid premises ever devised to permit codified totalitarian action. Why? First of all, because the ticking time bomb scenario is incredibly improbable, one only ever seen in cheesy Hollywood movies and right-wing fantasy television shows. But second, because if such a scenario really ever did implausibly happen, that's what prosecutorial discretion is for. It's often said that hard cases make for bad law, and if ever there was a circumstance in which that saying applied, it's this one. In the incredibly unlikely event that a nuclear attack were about to go off in minutes and a suspect in custody had the information to disarm the bomb, I imagine that any number of things would probably be done to attempt compliance and few people would bat an eye--if the truth about what happened ever even came out. Nobody would prosecute the people involved, and few but the most ardent civil libertarians would care.

What one doesn't do under any circumstance is codify torture into law in order to justify an impossibly implausible scenario. And one doesn't engage in torture, "legal" or illegal, on suspects who may or may not have information on a potential attack that may or may not be in process.

This has been probably the most chilling aspect of the new civil liberties regime over the last 12 years: it's not just what has been done in our name--that's bad enough--but that what was done has been justified so openly. It's not as if the American government hasn't since its inception done some truly awful things in its past by people who justified to themselves, like Mr. Rodriguez, that they were doing it all for flag and country. But at least in the past such people had enough shame to know they should at least keep it under wraps and classified. J. Edgar Hoover, terrible as he was, at least knew better than to proudly make public his operations.

But when torture becomes a matter of national public policy and men like Mr. Rodriguez proclaim it proudly on national television rather than from behind cell bars, we have a different order of problem entirely. And the onus for that problem lies not just with our elected officials, but with all of us as a society. After all, once it's on 60 Minutes it's not as if we can turn our heads and pretend we didn't know.

American Exceptionalism, you bet your ass.

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