Does anybody else remember In the Name of the Father?

October 1st, 2006

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. If memory serves, I was assigned to see it by my (ultracool) English lit professor, who wanted our class to discuss it as an example of a story that challenged the status quo of British authority during the 20th century. She paired it with a set of readings around the theme of “speaking from the dock” — that is, the proud tradition of rebels or revolutionaries using the dock in the courtroom as a pulpit to express their challenge to the system that was putting them under trial.

This movie came to mind recently after I read yet another description of the water-boarding that my tax dollars apparently have been supporting during the sitting Administration’s wretched and deeply misguided pursuit of its post-9/11 policies. Not exactly new news, to be sure. But this time, for some reason, I also remembered the scenes of torture from In the Name of the Father, during which British officials brutalized Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis’s character) and one of his friends in order to extract information from them that would help the Brits pursue the big baddies from the I.R.A.

I carry no truck with the I.R.A’s methods, any more than I do for Palestinian suicide bombers’ demonic practice of blowing up schoolchildren in buses — or, for that matter, the I.D.F.’s practice of rocket-bombing Palestinian houses where they know that noncombatants, including young children, are present. I’m not saying that the causes of Irish liberty, Palestinian liberty, or Israeli security are unjustified, only that blowing up innocents is never a good way of pursuing those causes. Or, let me put this in simpler words that I would use to kick off a larger critique of the current Administration’s policies: I hate terrorism.

Here’s the kicker from the story told by the film: Conlon and his mates . . . were the wrong men. The British authorities — not because they were evil or stupid, but because they were human and desperate — captured the wrong men, then tortured them to extract information that Conlon et al. couldn’t give, simply because they didn’t have that information. Because they weren’t the guys the Brits were looking for.

So, the Senate in its unwisdom has come up with a “compromise” that continues to give the President the right to define whether you, I, or Random Iraqi X is an “enemy combatant” — ergo to deny habeas corpus, the right to a jury trial, and the right to hear a clear account of adverse charges and evidence. But water-boarding seems to be off the playlist, at least.

I would love it if military and (even better) law-enforcement officials from the United States and cooperating nations hunted down every last member of Al Qaeda and every last person who aided or had guilty foreknowledge of the 9/11 bombings. But . . . what if we get the wrong people? You know, not because the President is necessarily an idiot (I don’t think he is) or Dick Cheney is evil (I don’t care) or Don Rumsfeld is incompetent (true, but not relevant here), but simply because . . . humans make mistakes.

My country has eschewed the use of torture for so long and ought to eschew it now not because we don’t want to go after Mr. Bad Guy, but because we want to make sure we
are going after Mr. Bad Guy and not Mr. Wrong Place At The Wrong Time. If I thought that the U.S. Army, the CIA, the FBI, MI-6, Mossad, et al. were capable of awesome accuracy in whom they capture and whom they interrogate, I might at least listen to some of the arguments from those who advocate the official use of torture. But we’re a long way from that level of accuracy. A long way.

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Addendum (11:57 a.m. Sunday):  James Macdonald offers more on basically the same topic in the comment thread of a very useful post at Making Light.

One Response to “Does anybody else remember In the Name of the Father?”

  1. What I’ve Learned So Far » Blog Archive » No torture. Says:

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