Monday, June 25, 2007

Forget Jack Bauer

Hang it all, Antonin Scalia! There can be but one set of absolutes! But absolutes, and my absolutes?

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent’s rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.

“So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.”
Funny how quickly we come back to questions of "faith" and "belief," isn't it? I tend to agree with r@d@r: belief in the kind of absolutes Scalia is defining is rather like saying you believe in the weather. Not that the US military is entirely comfortable with that.

TONY LAGOURANIS: Well, the problem was that when we were interrogating in Iraq in 2004, we were being told that Geneva Conventions didn't comply. So we didn't have training that informed us what to do anymore, because we were taught according to Geneva Conventions. So people were getting ideas from television. And among the things that I saw people doing that they got from television was water-boarding, mock execution, using mock torture. They wanted to hook up one of our translators to an electric generator and pretend that they were torturing him and allow prisoners to see that so that they thought that they would experience the same thing.
Nor that the CTU on "24" is entirely competent:

Actually, I doubt Scalia really is watching 24. If he were, he would know that the anti-terrorist agency CTU, where Jack Bauer works when he isn't being imprisoned, hunted, or tortured by Chinese/Arab/Russian thugs is:

A. Run by incompetent but well-meaning nincompoops who can't even secure their own building from terrorist infiltration through sewer lines and probably the front door,

B. Staffed by computer geniuses who can't tell when their system is breached, and don't notice when the terrorists they desperately seek have set up shop just blocks away from them

C. Constantly letting terrorists escape when the bad guys use techniques like the old, they-got-in-their-SUVs-and-just-drove-away trick.

In short, CTU is a pretty good approximation of FEMA, or the TSA. Or, of course, the Department of Homeland Security.
But, as Paul Simon said, "a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest." All in all, I suppose we can all be grateful Quentin Tarentino confined himself to words:

Marsellus: What now? Let me tell you what now. I'ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin' niggers, who'll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin', hillbilly boy? I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'ma get medieval on your ass.
Tarentino, however, is more honest than we are willing to be; because that is what we are talking about. And now we are talking about it, not in some obscure store in a fictional L.A., but in the highest possible levels of government:

More than a year after Congress passed McCain-sponsored restrictions on the questioning of suspected terrorists, the Bush administration is still debating how far the CIA's interrogators may go in their effort to break down resistant detainees. Two officials said the vice president has deadlocked the debate.

Bush said last September that he would "work with" Congress to review "an alternative set of procedures" for "tough" -- but, he said, lawful -- interrogation. He did not promise to submit legislation or to report particulars to any oversight committee, and he has not done so.

Two questions remain, officials said. One involves techniques to be authorized now. The other is whether any technique should be explicitly forbidden. According to participants in the debate, the vice president stands by the view that Bush need not honor any of the new judicial and legislative restrictions. His lawyer, they said, has recently restated Cheney's argument that when courts and Congress "purport to" limit the commander in chief's warmaking authority, he has the constitutional prerogative to disregard them.

If Cheney advocates a return to waterboarding, they said, they have not heard him say so. But his office has fought fiercely against an executive order or CIA directive that would make the technique illegal.

"That's just the vice president," said Gerson, Bush's longtime chief speechwriter, referring to Cheney's October remark that "a dunk in the water" for terrorists -- a radio interviewer's term -- is "a no-brainer for me."

Gerson added: "It's principled. He's deeply conscious that this is a dangerous world, and he wants this president and future presidents to be able to deal with that. He feels very strongly about these things, and it's his great virtue and his weakness."
Did you get that? Is it real clear? Torture is a matter of principal. But even Jack Bauer knows its illegal. Dick Cheney is convinced its legal. Because he's the Vice President. Because we are at war. Because it's in defense of the American people. Jack Bauer does it for entertainment, in some fictional realm of the imagination where nothing is real and so "illegal but necessary" doesn't violate any laws of human society. Dick Cheney simply suspends those laws by some act of divine fiat that only he, apparently, can divine. And it's all okay, because he's doing it as a matter of principle! And surely the US government is more competent than the fictional CTU! Right? Right!?

Of course, we know even John Yoo wanted to draw the line at "threatening to bury a prisoner alive." I'm guessing that meant tossing the last shovelful of dirt in would be over the line; but I'm still not sure.

I'm not sure what we did to deserve such principled people in the highest levels of our government; but it must have been something really, really bad.

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