Thursday, March 29, 2007

Courts and confessions

For anyone mulling the confessions at Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings of 2 men held for years in secret CIA prisons, this 52-year-old decision is worth a read:
In People v. La Frana, 122 N.E.2d 583 (Ill. 1954), Illinois' highest court set aside a murder conviction after finding that the confession on which it was based had been coerced. The facts are hauntingly familiar: Midway through a 2-week detention in 1937, defendant, who had not confessed despite days of interrogation, was put in a room with a police captain who
hit him repeatedly with his fists and with a night stick. His hands were then handcuffed behind him and he was blindfolded. A rope was put in between the handcuffs and he was suspended from a door with his hands behind him and his feet almost off the floor. While he was hanging from the door, he was repeatedly struck until he lapsed into unconsciousness. When he lost consciousness he was taken down from the door and when he regained consciousness he would be hung back up on the door and again questioned and struck. After about fifteen minutes of this treatment he agreed to sign a confession. (p.585)
The government having failed its "burden of establishing," "by clear and convincing testimony," "that the injuries were not administered in order to obtain the confession," the court ordered a new trial. And it noted defense counsel's "suggestion" that police had held defendant without charge for another week "to allow time for the injuries received in the beating to heal up, so as to make it more difficult to prove that the beating had occurred." (p.586)
That defense counsel? John Paul Stevens of Chicago, since 1976 a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

1 comment:

Chris Blakesley 1 said...

I appreciate Grace O'Malley's post and find this blog as a whole to lovely and valuable to me in so many ways. The reminder of Justice Stevens's role in attempting to thwart torture in our justice system, shows the connection between who we are and what we do domestically and internationally, in "peace" and in "war." Here are a few of my thoughts on how doing or accommodating atrocious things, we become connected to them -- or they become part of us and we part of them. I posted thoughts similar to these on the AIDP blog, but thought that they might be pertinent here, too.

Herman Melville’s genius helps us to understand our tendency to hate and to demonize “the other” as “the enemy,” as a means to compensate for our own frustrations, neuroses, and general inadequacy to cope.

All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851).

Melville lovely and powerful novel provides a prism through which we can see our own potential for destructive rage, which may blind us and prevent us from placing limits on our own conduct. He makes us look at ourselves and face our potential for evil. Melville’s insight penetrates to the core of the major danger facing many societies today. He allows us to sense how values, morals, and “the law” can be manipulated to cause feelings that produce bile, fear, and hatred, which prompt actions that actually erode the very values claimed as the cause for the action. Sometimes a group is manipulated to feel a certainty that all truth, right, justice, or God reside with them. This manipulation may prompt evil action. Indeed, even the sense that one must act in certain ways to protect his or her group can be manipulated. Evil erupts, if the opportunity arises.

Another masterful work that has had a tremendous influence on me is Primo Levi’s “The Drowned and the Saved.” Levi’s idea of what it means to be human is poignant and radiant. Levi wrote that he was “trying to answer the most urgent question: How much of the concentration camp world is dead and will not return ....? How much is back and is coming back? ....” As you know, Levi was a survivor of Auschwitz in 1944, who eventually committed suicide (or so most believe) by falling down the deep center of the circular stairwell of his apartment building. It seems that his torture continued throughout his life and included the haunting and terrifying question: why do otherwise good people allow themselves to commit or to acquiesce to the commission of the most heinous acts?

In the face of terrorism or crimes against humanity, fear may become rage and people turn to vengeance. Fear is easily manipulated into rage. This causes what Albert Camus called an ugly, infernal dialectic–a self-destructive death dance. See Albert Camus, Appeal for a Civilian Truce in Algeria (lecture given in Algiers, Feb. 1956), reprinted in Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death 131 (J. O’Brien trans., 1960; Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine, essay, in id., at 174, 198; Albert Camus, Neither Victims Nor Executioners (D. MacDonald trans., 1972). Leaders with a melodramatic bent, blind their adherents to any humanity on the other side. The people are made to believe that they are fighting the devil himself, and that all truth is being destroyed. We demonize, using terms like:

Humans easily fall into the trap of being manipulated to demonize “others,” calling them “terrorists,” “evil-doers,” or other villainous epithets to generate hatred and to justify criminal acts against them. This was not lost on Adolf Hitler, who, in his Mein Kampf, referred to Germany’s failure in World War I, as being in part due to not having sufficiently utilized this propaganda tactic of “making monsters of their enemies” in the eyes of the German Volk.

Albert Camus, in his Appeal for a Civilian Truce in Algeria, describes this as falling into a miasma of evil, an “infernal dialectic that whatever kills one side kills the other too, each blaming the other and justifying his violence by the opponent’s violence. The eternal question as to who was first responsible loses all meaning then . . . [Can’t we] at least . . . refrain from what makes it unforgivable . . . . the murder of the innocent.”

These are a few of the thoughts I have put down in my recent book, Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism: A Normative and Practical Assessment (Martinus Nijhoff/Brill/Transnational publishers 2006), noted in the book section of this blog, and have developed further in speeches and articles in progress.