Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scalia's Defense of Torture

In a maze of hypotheticals and imaginings, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (along with many in the highest level of government) sort of talks about why he thinks the use of torture to get information is an acceptable policy of American jurisprudence. I'm left with far more questions as the debate and discussion of the uses of torture contiues.

His views aside, questions now stand about whether evidence obtained using waterboarding would be allowed in the upcoming court cases against suspects in the 9-11 attacks.

Judge Scalia, Speaking with the BBC, saw this exchange took place:

Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited under the Constitution? Because smacking someone in the face would violate the 8th amendment in a prison context. You can’t go around smacking people about. Is it obvious that what can’t be done for punishment can’t be done to exact information that is crucial to this society? It’s not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth.

BBC: It’s a question that’s been raised by Alan Derschowitz and other people — this idea of ticking bomb torture. It’s predicated on the basis that you got a plane with nuclear weapons flying toward the White House, you happen to have in your possession — hooray! — the person that has the key information to put everything right, and you stick a needle under his fingernail — you get the answer — and that should be allowed?

SCALIA: And you think it shouldn’t?

BBC: All I’m saying about it, is that it’s a bizarre scenario, because it’s very unlikely that you’re going to have the one person that can give you that information and so if you use that as an excuse to permit torture then perhaps that’s a dangerous thing.

SCALIA: Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can’t stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game. How close does the threat have to be and how severe can an infliction of pain be?

There are no easy answers involved, in either direction, but I certainly know you can’t come in smugly and with great self-satisfaction and say, “Oh, this is torture and therefore it’s no good.” You would not apply that in some real-life situations. It may not be a ticking bomb in Los Angeles, but it may be: “Where is this group that we know is plotting this painful action against the United States? Where are they? What are they currently planning?”

I've posted on this topic before, yes, and current events prompt me to point to this particular post again:

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become?"


Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work."

Is it worth noting the previous legal approach to the use of waterboarding?

In 1901 in the United States, the military court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years hard labor a US major who had waterboarded a prisoner in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The United States officially outlawed the practice after World War II, when the Germans and Japanese had both used it against Allied troops. The Allies executed eight Japanese officers for waterboarding British prisoners and sentenced another to 15 years hard labor for waterboarding a US civilian, among other crimes."


  1. Excellent post. Today I read that the bill has passed both house/senate, but Bush has guaranteed a veto. When will we call him on his crap??
    Is his veto the 'end all & be all'?

    Scalia needs to undergo just 3 minutes of waterboarding to understand what it's all about. nah, go ahead & give him the full 20.

  2. Institutionalized torture is wrong. It is also prohibited by the Constitution.

  3. and still, somehow Justice Scalia reasons (if that's the word) there is no Constitutional mention of torture.
    perhaps he is reading The Imaginary Constitution For Dummies.

  4. Anonymous11:08 AM

    if they'll do it to us. . .LRR

  5. wait a sec, LRR ....

    recently terrorists strapped bombs to women with downs syndrome and detonated them with remote controls, is that a tactic we should copy too?