Remarks From Remarksman

May 8, 2008

Antonin Scalia: Torture is not punishment

Filed under: Uncategorized — BrianB @ 9:30 pm
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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has publicly claimed that the torture of prisoners does not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Scalia’s comment came during an interview with Lesley Stahl on the CBS show, 60 Minutes. Below is the clip, as presented during Democracy Now.

I can follow Scalia’s reasoning up until about 1:00 in the clip, at which point he goes right off the tracks of logic, as far as I’m concerned. He says, “[…] when he’s hurting you in order to get information from you, you don’t say he’s punishing you.”

This statement only makes sense with a ridiculously narrow definition of punishment. Hurting someone because he won’t tell you what you want to hear is punishment. Let’s just imagine a scenario:

The captor says, “Tell us who you are working with!”

The prisoner remains silent.

“Tell us, or we’ll hurt you!”

Silence. Followed by screams.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law defines punish as to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation. In the scenario above, I’d say there was a fault (the prisoner refused to provide the requested information) followed by imposition of a penalty (torture). It seems quite clear to me that torture is punishment. In my estimation, it is cruel as well. We all hope that it remains unusual.

Cruel and unusual punishment.

But not according to one of our Supreme Court Justices. And then, just to make sure it’s clear that he is an arrogant jerk, Scalia finishes up with, “Anyway, that’s my view. And it happens to be correct.”

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