Now that the Emperor of America has made torture a popular indoor sport again, common lawyers will be recalling with a chuckle that in the 13th century European judges absurdly went for the truth and resorted to torture to get it, and English judges sensibly went for the money and resorted to extortion to get it.
Torture is naturally unreliable. Writing of European courts, Yale Professor John Langbein noted in The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford, 2004): “In case after case, the true culprit was ultimately discovered after the innocent person had confessed under torture and been convicted and executed.”
Torture may be useless for finding the truth, but it was fabulous for English hypocrisy and ethnocentrism. British justice was largely a criminal enterprise, but woggish torture enabled the English to cultivate that air of effortless superiority which is the major subject on the Eton/Oxbridge curriculum. Professor Langbein said that from 1534, when Henry VIII invented his own little church: “…
disdain for Continental criminal procedure became enmeshed in English hostility to the leading Continental regimes — the papacy, the French, and the Spaniards … English writers from [Sir John] Fortescue [1394-1476], to Sir Thomas Smith [1513-77], to Blackstone [1723-80] extolled the superiority of England’s torture-free procedure.”
Well, not quite torture-free. Law professor James Elkins, of the University of West Virginia, has noted the adversary system’s “philosophy of cruelty” and trial lawyers’ “professional malevolence”, i.e. their mental torture of witnesses, not least girl and child victims of sex crimes. That system began in Fortescue’s time; cross-examination was technique at least from Smith’s time; and Blackstone (seen here) was a famous liar.
Torture was abolished in Prussia in 1754, in Italy in 1786, in France in 1789, and even in Holy Russia in 1801.
And after the Battle of Chicken Marengo (Saturday, June 14, 1800), Bonaparte rushed back to Paris and initiated the reforms which at last made the European system quite effective in delivering truth and justice. Nonetheless, common lawyers still profess contempt for the “inquisitorial” system, rather as if they haven’t read the newspapers for a couple of centuries.
The current Holy American Emperor appears to enjoy an absolutely first rate 13th century mind. His permission to torture people, including Australian citizens, can be tracked to a memo by his legal adviser, Alberto (Seedy) Gonzales (pictured), on January 25, 2002. He wrote: “… the war against terrorism is a new kind of war … this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions [against torture].”
A truckload of academic herpetoids said Seedy was naughty to encourage torture, but that seems disingenuous: from Blackstone on, they have taught lawyers how to torture witnesses.
Recent events have further added to the general gaiety:
• A soldier, Charles Graner, got 10 years for torture.
• His Imperial Majesty made Congressional leaders bow to his demand that legislation explicitly banning torture be dropped.
• And he rewarded Gonzales, architect of torture, with a job as America’s first law officer, and is expected to give him a seat on the Supreme Court when Chief Humpty W. Hubbs Rehnquist, full of years (80) and odium, makes a graceful exit.
Imperial Washington thus seems to be cultivating a taste for irony and/or hypocrisy that even England might envy. Can Australia be far behind?
Evan Whitton’s update. So far from getting a seat on the Supreme Court, Seedy was expected at this writing (March 18, 2007) to be dismissed for sacking Federal prosecutors seen to be insufficiently zealous in prosecuting the interests of the Republican Party.
January 26, 2005
Evan Whitton’s … Treatise on torture
The current Holy American Emperor appears to enjoy an absolutely first rate 13th century mind. His permission to torture people, including Australian citizens, can be tracked to a memo by his legal adviser …