Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jack McCoy and Andrew Sullivan on Torture

On Law and Order last night, Jack McCoy's New York DA's office prosecuted one of the authors of the torture memos -- a fictional stand-in for John Yoo.

The plot line was incredibly far-fetched: on the show, the Obama Administration did not intervene until the case had already gone to a jury trial. Based on the Administration's pronouncements thus far, and notwithstanding Eric Holder's appointment of a special counsel, this is not how such a scenario would actually play out.

The borderline humorous aspect of the show, though, was how incredibly self-righteous McCoy was -- not willing to even consider the self-doubt of the assistant DA charged with leading the prosecution. Sam Waterston gives the character not a trace of irony or self-reflection; I am beginning to think that Waterston is either a really bad actor or alternately (and hopefully) that, after playing McCoy for so long, he's decided to run all the way to kitsch with the character's wholesomeness (and smugness).

In contrast to McCoy, Andrew Sullivan has one of the best analyses of the torture issue that I've read, in the current Atlantic (here). Sullivan writes an open letter to former President Bush asking him to apologize for his Administration's approval and use of torture. The piece is the opposite of McCoy's speechmaking -- Sullivan explores the complexity of the "war on terror" and explains, logically and with sufficient detail, why the use of torture is both inconsistent with American ideals (legal and moral) and a poor tactical choice for confronting Islamic extremism.

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