Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
July 21, 2009
If Scotty is to be believed, some of the shallowest, most deeply dishonest Republicans (and other fellow travelers) must have “first-rate intelligence.”
And, just to be clear, when I say “Scotty,” I am referring to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novelist, and not Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise – the man to whom Captain Kirk shouts, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Although the idea of the right-wing rabble having “first-rate intelligence” would seem to be even more unlikely than the most fantastical plots of “Star Trek.”
In any case, Scotty wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
And certainly the right-wing rabble in question has shown the ability to cling to vastly contradictory ideas while continuing to function.
If, of course, you accept that “function” means “yammer.”
OK, enough venting, here’s what I’m talking about.
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During the recent hearings on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the various Republican senators rallied around their oft-repeated point that the law is an absolute.
No fudging allowed.
Judges must adhere to the plain meaning of the law without any “interpretations” based on their “life experience,” their “empathy,” or any special circumstances that might lead them to deviate from what was plainly written and clearly intended.
Judges, these guys are fond of saying, are like baseball umpires. They don’t write the rule book; they call balls and strikes. Period.
To do anything else would make them “activist judges,” who run rough-shod over the rule of law in pursuit of non-legal philosophical triumph.
Bad judge! Turn in your robes!
Life experience, as they made clear to Judge (soon to be Justice) Sotomayor, has no place in a judge’s evaluation of the law.
OK. We all know this is arrant nonsense. Republicans are thrilled when it’s right-wing judges running rough-shod. It’s not “activist” when conservatives do it.
Fair enough. That’s just politics as usual – dishonest, but not unexpected.
But here’s the cherry on top of that hot-fudge sundae: Even as the Sotomayor hearings were going on, Republicans were in a frothing rage about the possibility of Attorney General Eric Holder opening an investigation into claims that we tortured prisoners.
(And I say “we” because the shame of torture stains this entire nation. All of us. And if the torture remains unexamined, the stain becomes indelible.)
Those who rant and rave at even the thought of looking into charges of torture are eloquent in their yelping. It wasn’t torture because:
1. It was “enhanced interrogation.”
2. It was no big deal. Just “splashing water in a terrorist’s face.”
3. They were terrorists.
4. We were attacked; thousands died.
5. President Bush said, “We don’t torture.”
And even if it was torture:
1. It got great results.
2. It was the work of a few perverted “bad apples.”
3. They were protecting America!
4. It happened in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, so it doesn’t count.
But here’s the problem with all of that:
1. The law is clear.
And the law in question is the Convention Against Torture, a treaty that the United States Congress approved, which, according to the Constitution (remember the Constitution? Lovely document), means that treaty is the law of the land.
And that law says that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?
No wiggle room. You can call it “enhanced interrogation”; you can say, “We don’t torture”; but if you are causing “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” you are torturing. Period.
And that definition is the very first sentence of Part I, Article 1 – so you don’t have to do a lot of reading to get to it.
Article 2 says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Article 2 also says (stick with me here), “Each State Party shall take effective … measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
And, if you keep reading, Article 12 says, “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed.”
So, having done all our reading, let’s look back up at those reasons why we shouldn’t at the very least investigate what happened.
No matter how you feel about what may have happened – and why it happened – there doesn’t seem to be any room for debate about whether “there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed.”
So the law of this nation requires a “prompt and impartial investigation.”
And to argue any other position, for any reason whatsoever, is to drag emotions, empathy, personal feelings, life experience, political philosophy – whatever – into the debate.
But that is exactly what those Republicans said they were so deeply and ethically opposed to. The law, they lectured Judge Sotomayor, must be interpreted clearly, simply, unemotionally, unpolitically, without concern for your empathy or life experience.
So if they can argue both sides of that at once and continue to function I guess Scotty Fitz would have to say they are possessed of “first-rate intelligence.”
Or he might just throw up.
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