I’m thinking of starting a torture and assassination (T&A) discussion group. Along with the central issue–the propriety or impropriety of T&A–we’ll talk about the tactics themselves: the purposes, processes and proper application of torture and assassination.
T&A is a growth industry, but it lacks consensus values and standards, and so it’s been left to us citizens to make sense of this new democratic institution. We get a glimpse of the confusion and arbitrariness that attends T&A from Attorney General Eric Holder, who finds such scant support in the laws for his government’s position on assassination that he has to resort to “necessity” instead. A T&A club could hold discussions every week for a year, just parsing and analyzing the government rationale as set forth by Holder, and a portion of every meeting should be dedicated to legal issues.
The question that Holder’s argument raises in my mind as a lawyer is how, in a republic, you and I can be prohibited from killing bad people in violation of the laws when our government has a license to do so. If ours is not a government of laws, then by what logic are we residents subject to obligatory legal strictures? If necessity is the standard, it’s no more pressing on government than on ordinary citizens. When bad people need to die, any of us must have as much right (or duty) to kill them as our president does. Obama and his predecessors have, with universal congressional approval, gone so far as to launch missiles on a carload or houseful of people in order to destroy just one of them, and the determination of our leaders must certainly empower all of us.
If there is a general right or duty of assassination, the next question is whom to kill (or “take out,” in the metaphoric vernacular of our bemused leaders and pundits). We haven’t been introduced to the standards our president applies in making such decisions, but there have been frequent expressions of approval among neojournalists, fiction-writers and subordinate government officials of T&A as a means of saving innocent lives. If sparing innocent lives is the primary criterion, our own leaders and opinion-mongers would have to occupy a good portion of the top of the list of candidates for T&A. Who hasn’t dreamed of locking Joe Lieberman in the trunk of his car for a couple of days, or flaying the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Hillary Clinton? If these people feared for their safety, many observers think the world might be a safer place. It’s certainly worth discussing, and I would dedicate a portion of every meeting to who belongs on the people’s list of candidates for assassination.
How-to issues are also worth talking about. One of the big obstacles to clear thinking on T&A is squeamishness. Assassins and torturers have a big advantage over critics of T&A in that they are numb to feelings of disgust and shame. Critics need to overcome this disadvantage, and frank discussions of means and methods might well serve as a desensitizing antidote to humane misgivings.
The plots and strategies would all be speculative, of course, and altogether fictitious, and the discussions would be for the sole purpose of moral prophylaxis. All discussions would be open–participants wouldn’t want to be mistaken for conspirators–and the proceedings on means and methods might even be published as an additional security measure. Of course, it’s possible that actual conspirators would adapt some of the tactics discussed at T&A gatherings, but it’s not the responsibility of the fiction-writer or movie-maker or propaganda-peddler to police the predilections of his audience; neither should T&A groups have to worry about such eventualities.
Without question, T&A chapters would be infiltrated, and infiltrators should be tolerated, if not invited. Keeping the intelligence agencies busy with fictitious plots might cut into some of their routine work sifting through the phone calls and emails of the general public. Every so often, a group could “out” an infiltrator, and these outings would help publicize the doings of the police state.
Could T&A groups be prosecuted for discussing crime? The First Amendment says they couldn’t, but don’t trust the laws. The Constitution of the United States is just a scrap of parchment, and our law enforcement authorities, so-called, consider the provisions for due process of law quaint and outdated and would gladly use the Bill of Rights for toilet paper if it were a little gentler on the butt. If innocent people can be kidnapped off the street and imprisoned by the US government without charge, odds are the members of a T&A discussion group could be herded into a paddy wagon and never heard from again.
So there’s a risk in forming a T&A discussion group. On the other hand, there’s the challenge of discussing T&A without getting busted, and I would expect chapters to compete with each other to find out how far they could go before the police showed up. Maybe I’m taking a risk asking this question, but would anybody like to join?