Saturday, February 02, 2008


SPOILER ALERT: Of my very few readers, I know one hasn't read To Kill a Mockingbird and I also know he plans to read it soon. So, sweetheart, maybe you should skip this first paragraph. Other SPOILER: this is self-righteousness incarnate, so mum, please ignore the tone!

I've just finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. There, the vague moral victory in the court case is that Atticus makes them doubt that a guilty plea is right. This is Alabama, in the 1930s, all too believable.

Therefore, this makes a Mississippi Supreme Court's decision in 1922 seem even more remarkable, particularly in light of Attorney General Mukasey's all too predictable sanction of waterboarding techniques. Why on earth anyone thought he'd be different from Gonzales, I really don't know. Oh, yes he is different - he doesn't come across as quite so slimy.

A (nerdy, clearly) law type has uncovered White v. State, which was a case whereby a young black man confessed to the murder of a white shopowner. Only problem - he was tortured. Well, not if you're Michael Mukasey, but yes if you're the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Just think about it - 1922, a Mississippi court orders a retrial because the confession of a black man was obtained under torture by white men. Having just seen the Kara Walker exhibition at the Whitney, I understand a little more deeply (although confusedly, it must be said) the swirling, depthless hatred and misunderstanding and misery of relationships between white and black throughout American history. Nonetheless, despite that, the Court was able to distinguish between what was right and wrong in this instance. I'll give you a few excerpts (emphases are all mine):
the hands of appellant were tied behind him, he was laid upon the floor upon his back, and, while some of the men stood upon his feet, Gilbert, a very heavy man, stood with one foot entirely upon appellant's breast, and the other foot entirely upon his neck. While in that position what is described as the “water cure” was administered to him in an effort to extort a confession as to where the money was hidden which was supposed to have been taken from the dead man. The “water cure” appears to have consisted of pouring water from a dipper into the nose of appellant, so as to strangle him, thus causing pain and horror, for the purpose of forcing a confession. Under these barbarous circumstances the appellant readily confessed that he knew where the money was, and told them that it was out at the “dredge ditch.” They then took the appellant to the dredge ditch to find the money, but there was no money found there or anywhere else so far as this record shows.
So in a nutshell: they tortured him AND it failed to provide the required information.
And I'll leave you with my favourite sentence from the judgment:
Confessions induced by fear, though not aroused by spoken threats, are nevertheless involuntary, because the fear which takes away, the freedom may arise solely from the conditions and circumstances surrounding the confessor.

1 comment:

subtleknot said...

You know what, I'm kicking myself because I don't remember where I read this, but an ex-CIA type reported recently that, in the informal studies they conducted, torture predictably led to false confessions and incorrect information. Surprise, surprise, surprise. It seems as though the "criminal" appellation automatically renders the suspect sub-human, thus amenable to torture, whatever its definition.

What the fuck will it take for anyone to acknowledge that waterboarding is a form of torture?

And P.S. I don't believe, under any circumstances, that "beetroot and mustard" can be tasty. That is a fallacy,madam, a complete and utter lie.