Remember the ticking time bomb scenario, the vignette that every torture apologist brandished like a lay down misère? You’ve got someone in custody and the bastard’s gloating about another imminent attack. Why, it’d be downright immoral not to insert bamboo slivers under his fingernails!
Well, now we have a real life test case. The Washington Post reports that Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting abortion provider Dr George Tiller, has called AP from his gaol cell to warn that more killings were in train:
“I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal,” Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.
As TPM notes:
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
That means we have a suspect in custody who has admitted to having knowledge of specific terrorist attacks planned for the future. In order to thwart those alleged plots, we need more information from Roeder — information he doesn’t seem likely to give up voluntarily. By the logic of the ticking time-bomb scenario, we should be waterboarding Roeder already — or at least banging his head against the wall.
The TPM folks contacted some of the more notorious demagogues (Cheney, Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry, etc) who, in the context of the War on Terror, regularly trotted out outlandish 24 scenarios to justify “enhanced interrogation”. Do they now want to get medieval on Roeder?
No, not so much, it seems.
Remarkably, Roeder hasn’t even been charged with national security offenses, even though he seems to fit every textbook definition of a domestic terrorist.
As a Salon blogger points out, the relevant law runs like this:
As used in this chapter… (5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that — (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended — (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
On the face of it, Scott Roeder ticks all of the boxes. He self-evidently wanted to intimidate the civilian population (George Tiller has, you might say, already been intimidated to death); as an anti-abortion campaigner, Roeder obviously sought to affect the conduct of the government.
Roeder faces no terrorism charges. Yet Abdulhakim Muhammad, who murdered a soldier the next day outside a recruiting centre in Arkansas, does.
What gives? Perhaps there’s some tricky legal distinction between the cases. But one rather suspects that prosecutors see more political mileage in talking terrorism about a Mohammed who kills GIs rather than a Scott who shoots abortionists.
Yet statistically US recruiting centers are far safer than abortion clinics, which have faced a steady drip of violence over the years. Wiki says:
In the US, violence directed toward abortion providers has killed at least nine people, including five doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort. […] According to statistics gathered by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), an organization of abortion providers, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers.
In all likelihood, Roeder’s threats are the jailhouse bluster of a disturbed individual. But, given the record above, they might not be. And tick, tick, tick, tick.
So why aren’t the hairy-chested torture proponents amongst the punditocracy calling for Mr Roeder to be taken on a trip to the dark side? The optimistic answer is that, after everything that’s come out from Guantanamo, even Jack Bauer most devoted fanboys recognise torture as an abomination whatever the circumstances, that anyone, no matter what they’re accused of, deserves decent treatment and a fair trial, and that law enforcement should be able to investigate Roeder’s threats and take an appropriate response without resorting to depravities.
On the other hand, it could just be that the torture p-rn simply doesn’t generate the same frisson when there’s white people involved.