Slippery Slopes

Andrew Sullivan’s dissection of one Boston cop’s overtly racist response to the Gates arrest is worth reading in full, but this part caught my eye:

And the more you read, the more you realize how deep the Bush-Cheney legacy runs and how the torture and ‘enemy combatant’ state, celebrated nightly on Fox, easily seeps into domestic law enforcement. Notice how Cheney actually wanted to use the military against “suspects” in America.

. . . This man is also in the National Guard.

My first reaction to this was an exaggerated eye-roll, followed shortly by something to the effect of “sure, torture is really, really bad, but does police misconduct have anything to do with military interrogation practices?” Then I remembered this frightening article from the Boston Globe:

If the spread of torture techniques suggests a blurry line between “us” and “them,” it also teaches that there’s no real boundary between “there” and “here.” It would be ignoring history to assume that what happens in an American-run prison in Iraq will stay in Iraq. Soldiers who learn torture techniques abroad get jobs as police when they return, and the new developments in torture you read about today could yet be employed in a neighborhood near you.

In Chicago, in the decade after Vietnam, the use of magnetos and other clean tortures left a disaster: At least 11 men were sentenced to death and many others given long-term prison sentences based on confessions extracted by torture, and in 2003, Governor George Ryan of Illinois commuted the death sentences of all 167 death row inmates. Earlier this month the City of Chicago agreed to pay nearly $20 million to settle lawsuits filed by four former death row inmates who claimed they were tortured and wrongly convicted.

I think this is one of the most compelling points in favor of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, even if it doesn’t result in retroactive prosecution. Reestablishing widely-held social norms against torture really is the only way to ensure that mistreatment doesn’t become routinized, particularly if ‘enhanced interrogation tactics’ are likely to bleed into daily law enforcement.

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18 thoughts on “Slippery Slopes

  1. I remember reading a person talk about how police agencies used to look askance at applicants with crew cuts, because police work was about more than enforcement, and these applicants would bring a military mindset to the job. If you noticed, Officer Crawley had a nice crew cut. So in short, you better believe the military bleeds into the police force.

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    • Not exactly a comforting thought, M.Z.

      To be sure, I think police departments should be able to recruit veterans. But absent some sort of widely-recognized rejection of torture, I worry that ‘enhanced interrogations’ will become a feature of domestic law enforcement.

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  2. It is not only torture but the seemingly day-to-day abuse and bullying of those originally stopped for questioning. Mouth off or appear even slightly uncooperative and “street justice” takes over. What was once a winking acceptance of enforcement in the ghetto is moving into mainstream policing.

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  3. Yep.

    Let it out to sunlight. “This is what we did. This is who we did it to. This is who did it.”

    We wouldn’t even need to prosecute, after that. Everything would be out in the open.

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  4. No need to add the ‘retroactive’ modifier to ‘prosecutions,’ at this point still in any case. We don’t have a Department of Pre-Crime — all the crimes we prosecute still take place in the past.

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  5. My first reaction to this was an exaggerated eye-roll

    Your first reaction was correct. Usually further reflection just confuses things, as in this case.

    Naturally I’m on the side of all right-thinking people of good will on the torture issue. That’s not the point. The point is Sullivan’s dragging Bush/Cheney into a local issue that has absolutely nothing to do with with them.

    How can one read this and not cringe? Sullivan proclaims a sudden illumination into

    the actual attitudes and beliefs of a segment of American society, the part that strongly disapproves of Obama…

    Are we-who-disapprove-of-Obama to be openly called racist scum by such a poor excuse for a human being as Sullivan?

    Sullivan is truly an embarrassment to read because of his fixation with Bush/Cheney/Palin, etc etc. His hysterical style of moral preening is way beyond embarrassing. His constant pontifications are suitable for the Pope. I guess that this is somehow what Sullivan is shooting for as a so-called liberal Catholic. After all, how much can one trust the judgment of someone who believes that some god was born by “immaculate conception” two thousand years ago to redeem humanity—which stays stubbornly unredeemed after all those years?

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