***SPOILER ALERT - THIS POST TALKS ABOUT EVENTS FROM THE JAN. 10 EPISODE***
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get on with our discussion about torture. We've blogged previously about the issue of whether or not our government should engage in the act of torturing criminal/terrorist suspects. [See posts HERE and HERE]. Each time we've had this debate, people generally divide themselves into 1 of 2 camps: those who think we should follow our own laws at all times and those who feel we don't have to when it comes to terrorists. But who is right?
|Huck played by Guillermo Diaz|
In last night's episode, one of Olivia Pope's teammates, a former CIA operative named "Huck" (played by Guillermo Diaz), is set up as the fall guy for the attempted assassination of President Grant. The federal authorities quickly detain him under the Patriot Act and, among other things, they proceed to waterboard him for information. Oh and, by the way, Huck is a U.S. citizen. This doesn't seem to matter much as the CIA agents administer beating after beating. During one of Huck's torture scenes, there is an exchange which takes place nearby between Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rosen and an agent with the CIA.
|Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rosen played by Joshua Malina|
David: He hasn't answered any of our questions yet.CIA Agent: He will. They always do. Eventually they always do.David: I'm just wondering about...it really doesn't look like he can take much more of the waterboarding...the "interrogating," and I'm wondering if we maybe wanna do a little less "interrogating" and start thinking about his civil rights. I'm a US Attorney, gentlemen. I represent the United States of America. The United States of America is in this room with you. So you need to watch how you treat the prisoner on American soil.CIA Agent: I represent the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and all the men and women who ever fought and died for your right to stand in this room with your glasses and your briefcase and spout your crap. We are not on American soil. This is not America. This is the Pentagon and that is an enemy combatant. Son, I represent the United States, do you understand? The United States of America is in the room with you. You're a guest here. Shut your mouth!David: ...
The Pro-torture camp usually cites to the "24 scenario" to make the case that we need to be able to torture terrorist suspects. The 24 scenario is based off of the old TV show 24 where Jack Bauer has 24 hours to figure out where the next imminent threat is going to strike against America and do anything he can in order to stop it. Under such exigent circumstances, the pro-torture crowd says that it's ok to "suspend" the Constitution in order to stop an attack from happening. And to their credit, the Supreme Court has ruled that there is a "public safety exception" that allows authorities to continue questioning suspects during an emergency situation without stopping to give the suspect his or her Miranda rights [we have blogged about that HERE]. But understand that this exception is very limited in 3 important ways: (1) the authorities must have reason to believe at the time that the suspect is taken into custody that there is an imminent threat to the public safety; (2) the questions asked by the authorities have to be related to that imminent threat; and (3) once the imminent threat is over, the suspect must be read their Miranda rights.
Notice that this public safety exception is only a suspension of Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, have an attorney, etc.). The exception does not say anything about torture being cool at any time. The exception only allows authorities to ask questions before reading a suspect their rights when an imminent threat to public safety is concerned. And the threat has to be (A) real and (B) imminent, not just some gut feeling that you made up because you want to torture somebody for 10 years in Gitmo. In other words, it's OK to temporarily suspend somebody's Miranda rights in order to make sure that they don't know about any more information about imminent threats to America. What is not OK is to permanently suspend all Constitutional rights indefinitely (including the right to not be tortured) until the "war on terror" is over. A war waged against an idea has no expiration date.
At the end of the day, America has to decide what type of country we want to be. Are we a nation of laws or are we a nation of unchecked emotions? Despite the merits on each side of the torture debate, the law is clear: torture is not permitted under the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 8th Amendment forbids the government from engaging in "cruel and unusual punishment" to people who have been arrested and/or detained, whether they've been read their Miranda rights or not. Either we follow this law or we don't. And if the answer is that we don't have to follow our own laws then why bother to have them in the first place?