Saturday, February 20, 2010

Angels of Torture and Death

One of the stories that has astonished me, is the story of the lawyers at the Justice Department and the White House who ordered up and rationalized the torture of prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  The New York Times and others are reporting on the report that clears (now Judge) Jay Bybee (pic top) and (now UCLA law professor) John Yoo (pic bottom) of "ethics" violations for authoring a memorandum laying a legal foundation for the "water boarding" and other "stress" strategies used agasinst our prisoners of war.
These two are clebrities in conservative circles, in fact Professor Yoo got the 20 questions treatment by Deborah Solomon in the Sunday New York Times Magazine feature back in December, he's a rockstar!

I'm a Bad Lawyer, but I'm at a loss how any lawyer can rationalize in a legal memorandum a jurisprudential basis for harming another human being, even an "enemy" combatant.  There is no jurisprudence of torture, there is no jurisprudence for enhancing "stress" on human beings.  The logic, that these steps were necessary to "keep America safe in the days after 9/11" is a not a legal argument.  Lawyers consistent with their professional oaths and oaths of office saw fit to offer "legal opinions" that said in effect--flout the Geneva Conventions, violated their professional ethics and the oaths and promises they undertook when they became lawyers.  That a supervisor at the Justice Department in a supervisory role, said otherwise, letting them off the hook for ethics violations, doesn't change that fact.

Oh, let me deal with the "24 hour/ticking time bomb" scenario--which is the only rationale for torture.  Fine, torture away, but don't claim it was "legally"-based.  If you were right then "bravo" the country will hail you as a hero and your pardon and medal will be forthcoming.  You might even have a "necessity" defense available to you if I remember my criminal law correctly, but do not pretend that a foundation in law or logic necessitates a systematic legal rationale for clearly criminal acts.

You don't have to read deeply at the Bad Lawyer Blawg to realize that my soul is deeply troubled and has been for sometime by many things (mostly by my own failings) and by the Angels of torture and death.  I see them everwhere.  We, collectively and daily,see the consequences of the dark spirits in our violent society.  From the Alabama professor who takes a gun and kills her colleagues; or the Information Technology professional who enraged at the IRS flies his small plane into an Austin, Texas office building recreating his own personal 9/11; and,  to all the horrific local accounts of murder and violence especially among families.  In so many ways we have supplanted the values of love and respect for one another with attitudes and righteous anger.  We are bleeding away our humanity.  Who are the angels of torture and death?  We are.

When we rationalize hatred and killing, when we see the world as us versus them, when we resort to the gun and the bomb--the angels of torture and death are in the mirror.   Let's visualize the death of these angels.  That, I believe, will bring us to a more civilized place.


  1. The human capacity for self-justification in even the most iniquitous circumstances is indeed the smoke-filled back room in the shining House of Reason. This sort of story makes it obvious that morally, we're still living in the dark ages. Inquisitions and Crusades had similar apologists. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Alas.

  2. GM--
    Did you catch the NYT bookreview of Thomas Lynch's "Apparition and Late Fictions" in today's NYT? The reviewer quotes La Rochefoucauld, "Death and the sun are not to be looked at steadily." Interestingly, Lynch's collection includes an "adaption" of "Death in Venice."

  3. Did you see what General Petraeus said on Meet the Press? Here's the link:


  4. This is the converse to the maxim that "no good deed goes unpunished" --I have no doubt that the justice system will become much more efficient when we can replace civil depositions with water-boarding. MDK