This stuff will just drive you batshit crazy

May 14, 2008

My first semester at law school I had hands down the hardest class I’ve ever had: Constitutional Law. 

“90% of all cases in the United States are easy cases,” said my professor, a noted Constitutional theorist and generally terrifyingly brilliant human being. “Anyone can go to law school and get a job handling those 90% of cases. Somebody has to figure out the other 10%. You’re here to learn how to figure out the other 10%.”

There were a lot of things I forgot from my first year of law school, but that’s one thing I haven’t forgotten at all. And that’s why issues like the John Yoo “torture” memo (note the use of quotations, please) tend to take a particular significance with me — in my eyes, we live in a political era of sloganeering, of easy answers, of just about nobody in this country doing their proverbial homework before they open their mouths. And so we get bullshit, some of which we agree with because, well, morally we don’t like the idea of sleep deprivation or restricted diets or loudspeakers, and some of which we don’t because, well, morally we don’t like the idea of sleep deprivation or restricted diets or loudspeakers.

Maybe John Yoo isn’t an animal — maybe he just did what he had to do. Maybe the Constitution and its safeguards are a merely a house of cards; a beautiful thing, sure, but a vulnerable thing, lacking structural support or procedural / substantive safeguards to truly prevent any one from toppling it.

Maybe we just don’t like the logical endpoints that our laws and their flaws lead us to, or maybe we just don’t like those logical endpoints sometimes.  

After all, what is a war? And what is torture? Should we wait idly by while Congress, a body of 535 individuals that tend to all have their own agendas, private interests — as well as moral foundations and seemingly divergent good intentions — authorizes war, or should we allow the President to act unilaterally?

If we choose the former, must we recognize Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant? Should we overturn the 13th and 14th Amendments, some of the backbones of our society, as illegal post-war extravagances … or were they just necessary, so fuck the system? If we say no to the fucking of the system, then should we ditch the Constitution altogether for failing to abide by the revision requirements of the Articles of Confederation (you’ll recall the Constitution was ratified by only nine states)? Or were these acts things that were right at the time, that was necessary due to the conditions, that has been validated by the passage of time … just as we can now somehow blot out the Japanese interment camps, the nuclear bombs on Japan, the firebombings of WWII (They say: “It ended the war. War is hell. Imagine how much more damage would’ve occurred!”).

It’s just all a bit much, but I guess that’s it — it’s the other 10%. Maybe John Yoo makes a whole hell of a lot of sense and I just don’t like that he does because my moral and religious beliefs tell me otherwise. Maybe it’s because I stared into mass graves and walked through Khmer Rouge torture centers in Cambodia. Maybe it’s because I saw the documentary Taxi Ride to the Dark Side a few months ago and wanted to drink myself into oblivion the rest of the evening. I don’t know. But a law is a law is a law, and I can’t say I like some and not others, because then, well, none of them matter.

Recall the Odyssey:

“‘So far so good,’ said she, when I had ended my story, ‘and now pay attention to what I am about to tell you- heaven itself, indeed, will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster. 

Read: “Is John Yoo a Monster?” from this month’s Esquire. 


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