I couldn’t have brought myself to issue the Supreme Court ruling that protected Bush administration officials from accountability for torturing and degrading people after 9/11. No, I have not had the painful personal experience of the Supreme Court, as it is currently constituted, as an instrument of the police state under which we currently find ourselves. But Thomas Jefferson did, and he never ceased to be troubled by an unelected, unchecked Supreme Court twisting and shaping the Constitution into whatever meaning it wanted to.
When I read about the decision, it seemed outrageous. However, I wasn’t interested in attacking the Court, but in seeing it from a different point of view. For example, imaginary numbers are fundamentals of mathematics and are truly difficult for the untrained mind to grasp. It seemed to me that I couldn’t, by logic alone, get to the bottom of the Supreme Court decision protecting administration officials from the consequences of torturing and degrading others. After all, the application of completely illogical imaginary numbers builds real bridges and bombs. So I needed another certainty to overcome my disgust over the Supreme Court decision, an inner certainty, so to speak, to penetrate the mystery of why a crime isn’t a crime. I wanted to draw myself away from abstract judicial concepts and towards moral, even divine aspects. Well that’s not right either. At least, let’s hope it’s not.
Abdullah al-Kidd was an American citizen like any other, a perfectly normal American citizen. Suddenly he stumbled into the clutches of the Justice Department, which arrested him just before he boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia, where he was going to work on his doctorate in Islamic studies. For 16 days, he was treated like an enemy of the state — shackled, held in high-security cells with the lights on 24 hours a day and sometimes humiliated by strip searches. I knew of these things long before the Supreme Court decision. You can’t be alive these days and be a stranger to torture, humiliation and degradation. But it’s not every day that you see them excused away by an instrument of the same government that did the humiliating, torturing and degrading.
Of course, I had to admit it was possible, like an imaginary number that doesn’t exist but builds bridges and bombs, that people aren’t good or evil once and for all. We all keep changing, changing. We exist only through our actions. But if we allow ourselves to change to where we become torturers or sacrificial animals, to permit humiliation and degradation, then anything is possible. Then even the most horrific things become. . . . simply possible. Then there is no line between good and evil, and perfectly normal people can do and permit terrible things. I think that’s what happened to the unchecked, unelected people on the Supreme Court.
The only question then is: how is this possible? What happens when people suddenly turn cruel and permit torture and humiliation? I used to think it would mean the end of the world. Now I know that what seems so incomprehensible from afar simply happens, like the first kiss. Quietly and naturally. As reported in the New York Times. Therefore I have learned that one must be continually on guard. Not that that will prevent what is happening – a country quietly coming apart at the seams.