The American Cult of Cruelty


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The most memorable public utterance this week was the Alice in Wonderland logic of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia asserting on 60 Minutes that torturing detainees wasn’t cruel and unusual punishment because they weren’t, having not been convicted of anything, being punished. He even gave the example of a police officer trying to get information from a suspect. So I guess it’s only police brutality if it’s done just for the fun of it. Or maybe that’s OK too.

Antonin Scalia represents a view that has become cultic in our land: that cruelty toward human beings is an important linchpin of an orderly society. Although we may officially condemn it, we nevertheless encourage its flourishing.

I bring this up because here‘s something that probably will come before Scalia at some time or other:

Immigrants who spent time in detention while fighting deportation filed a federal suit on Wednesday against Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, demanding that the agency issue legally enforceable regulations for its detention centers.

No enforceable standards now exist for the immigrant detention system, a rapidly growing conglomeration of county jails, federal centers and privately run prisons across the country.

I see. Not only are these detainees not convicted of a crime, they have not, strictly speaking, committed any crimes! Yet there they sit behind bars, where, in Scalialand, they are suitable targets for the release of whomever’s aggression. After all, how can the jailers be breaking the law when there aren’t any for them to break?

The lawsuit, filed by the immigrants and their advocates in United States District Court in Manhattan, contends that the lack of such regulations puts hundreds of thousands of people a year in substandard and inconsistent conditions while the government decides whether to deport them, leaving them subject to inadequate medical care and abuse.

In reply, Immigration and Customs Enforment spokesman Michael Keegan said the agency

“is fully committed to providing safe, secure and human conditions for individuals in our custody.”

I’m sure Daso Abibo would agree. Ask Deanna Burdine.

Raymond Soeoth and Amadou Diouf might agree too, despite having been under the influence of drugs.

And then there’s the motherlode of rejoinders to ICE’s being “fully committed to providing safe, secure and human conditions for individuals in our custody,” New Jersey. The Garden State is notable because there was a New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee to make a report. Who knows how many other states look the same? But do read the report, if you have the stomach for it. This is your country. This is Scalia’s country.

I don’t know whether Antonin Scalia is up to speed on all this, but from what he’s said publicly, I can’t imagine he has a problem with any of it.

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