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When Truth Is Scarier Than Parody

In Slate's latest video send-up, Nino Scalia is Jack Bauer, as Justice Scalia joins the cast of the popular TV drama 24. He quickly adopts agent Jack Bauer's oft-used torture techniques to persuade Justice Kennedy to adopt the legal philosophy of the Fox network. Then, summoned to rescue Vice President Cheney from a flock of quail that has taken him captive, Scalia easily persuades "the imperial president" to issue an executive order authorizing whatever alternative interrogation techniques he needs. Written by Slate legal-affairs correspondent Dahlia Lithwick and animated by Robert Donnelly, the video, as an imagination of what might be, makes for a very funny parody.

Funny, at least, until one reads today's New York Times report, Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations. Just when we thought we'd heard the last of Alberto R. Gonzales, we learn that he gave his OK to torture techniques that even Jack Bauer might find extreme. Soon after Gonzales arrived as AG in 2005 -- a year after a well-publicized Justice Department opinion had declared torture "abhorrent" -- Justice issued another, secret opinion, this one described  as "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." The Times explains:

"The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

Gonzales approved the opinion over the objections of Deputy AG James B. Comey, who told colleagues they would be "ashamed" when the opinion eventually became public. Later, when Congress moved to outlaw "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment, Justice issued a follow-up opinion, also secret, saying that none of these CIA interrogation methods would violate that standard.

At least the Times report implicates no Supreme Court justices. Still, when I watched Slate's parody of justice run amok a second time, after reading the report, I found my laughter stifled.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 4, 2007 at 04:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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