Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Turtles All The Way Down

TV Producer Joel Surnow has plenty to answer for. First of all, he's responsible for Fox News' 1/2 Hour News Hour, a show which is to comedy what Fox News is to accuracy. But even worse, he has warped one of our greatest legal minds.

The Canadian Globe and Mail reports from a legal conference in Ottawa this week, and passes along the following account concerning panelist Justice Antonin Scalia:

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."

That really fired up the panel, and made for a plenty lively discussion, you betcha.

Presumably the eccentric Justice S. was being provocative by citing a fictional character from Surnow's 24 to prove his hypothetical points, but he's running into the same problem that all pro-torture advocates face. It's a logic thing that Scalia is familiar with, because he used it himself in a decision he wrote.

In our favored version, an Eastern guru affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger. When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant; and when asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle. When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback, but quickly replies "Ah, after that it is turtles all the way down."

Yep, it's basing your conclusion on unproven assumptions. To support torture you have to assume that it's your only way of getting the information, that your subject HAS the information, that he'll tell the truth only if you torture him, and that he's even the terrorist you thought you had in the first place. If not you're committing cruelty on someone for no reason. And if you don't have a problem with that, you're a Nazi. (Reducto Ad Hitlerum for illustrative purposes only.)

It is amazing to me how conservatives, who are so opposed to change, are willing to drop traditional pre-ratings code film mores as their guidelines. Look at any good-versus-evil movie. Star Wars - who tortures, the rebels or the empire? The empire! Marathon Man - who tortures, the method actor or the evil Nazi dentist? Dentist! Saw, Saw 2, Saw 3, Hostel, Hostel 2, Touristas, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original and remake) who tortures? The EVIL people!

Up until Jack Bauer, the hero is the one who avoids torture. Scalia endorsing torture is like Nixon growing his hair long and smoking weed because it looked cool in Easy Rider.

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