Greg Ball, the Putnam County Torturer

It isn’t every day that an elected official openly and proudly advocates violating state, federal, military, and international law. In this case, it started with a Tweet, but the state Senator has since doubled down on the sentiment, appearing on all kinds of TV programs to advocate in favor of blatant criminality.

Specifically, the fifth and eighth Amendments to the Constitution protect against self-incrimination, and prohibit “cruel and unusual punishment”, respectively. Once you torture someone, you can’t prosecute them. (But, in a moral and ethical abomination, the United States believes that it can continue indefinitely to detain them).

What the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston is a horrific, tragic, and despicable crime. One is dead, the other is going to be prosecuted. Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve respect or sympathy – he deserves to be prosecuted under the law and then punished. Torture would jeopardize that prosecution. Greg Ball went on TV to repeatedly suggest – tortuously referring to himself in the 3d person – that he “as Greg Ball” would happily “use a baseball bat” on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev if it would “save one innocent life”. Greg Ball did not specify in what way Greg Ball would use that baseball bat. Greg Ball.

Does criminality in response to criminality make us a better society? A freer society? Does the banality of Ball’s call for torture, and his own media tour/victory lap reflect poorly on just him, or a larger section of society in general? I mean, a lot of people seem to agree with him

The term “enemy combatant” generally means anyone who is a member of an armed force against which the United States is at war. After 9/11, however, it took on a new meaning, describing individuals fighting on behalf of al Qaeda and/or the Afghan Taliban who had taken up arms against – and been detained by – the United States as part of the “war on terror”. Under this novel definition, the U.S. government has asserted a right indefinitely to detain “enemy combatants” at military holding centers located outside the 50 states.

The government defines an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terror” as,

…an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy combat forces.

The Obama Administration formally ended the government’s use of “enemy combatant” in 2009, although it retained its right to indefinitely detain Taliban or al Qaeda combatants abroad.

It is not an un-American thing to suggest that our values and legal system are worthless if not counted on in the most difficult circumstances. Why defend the law and Constitution in one instance, while cheering its abrogation in the next? Is Amendment 2 worth protecting but Amendments 5 and 8, not so much?

Last week, a pair of Chechen brothers set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and over 100 injured – many seriously. On Thursday, they murdered a police officer, and injured another. One of the brothers was killed during a shootout with police after having wounded himself when attempting to throw at police another pressure cooker bomb like the ones he set on Boylston Street. His little brother kept police at bay and shut Boston down all of Friday, and is now in custody while being treated at Beth Israel Hospital.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be prosecuted as any other common criminal thug within our federal criminal justice system. There is nothing special about Tsarnaev to justify treating him as an alien enemy combatant. Indeed, Tsarnaev is a United States citizen detained on domestic soil, who committed prosecutable crimes. He’s not some terrorist mastermind – he’s just another murderer.

But our country is sick with disease. Disease like New York State Senator Greg Ball:

It’s one thing to debate the relative merits of treating Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant”, but it’s another to offhandedly recommend using “torture” to “save more lives”. He went on to explain,

“On most days, New York State is terrorist target #1, and playing paddy cake with mass murdering killers is not effective in my opinion. In the war against these sick cowards who seek to harm innocent men, women and children, information can and often does save lives. Terrorists play by a different set of rules by manipulating the greatest strengths of our open society against us. One of the questions to be asked is this: is “torture” ever justified in the war against terror, if it can save lives? I am not shy in joining those who say yes, and I believe we must give those tasked with protecting us every constitutional and effective tool to do so,” said Senator Greg Ball.

I’m not aware of anyone playing “paddy cake” with federal civilian inmates such as 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, the attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, 1993 World Trade bomber Ramzi Yousef, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, or Lockport’s own Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 innocent men, women, and children in 1995. It’s not “paddy cake” to be in a Supermax federal prison facility, either.

Which form of torture does Senator Ball recommend (link NSFW) for Tsarnaev? Burning him with boiling water? Asphyxiation? Cut off his hands? Perhaps just a simple beating? Re-enact the torture of Abner Louima? What evidence is there that torture even works to gather credible, reliable information? What part of “illegal” is confusing for the Senator? Why perpetrate an illegal act and run the risk of harming the prosecution’s case?

By sanctioning the use of behavior – “torture” – which is patently illegal under domestic and international law, what is Mr. Ball (and those who think like him) trying to prove or say? That our rage at a vicious act excuses a vicious response? That our principles, values, morals, and laws can be brushed aside as so much lint when a Chechen kid throws a major city into chaos and kills 4 innocent victims?

Of course Dzhokhar Tsarnaev won’t be treated as an enemy combatant. There’s no evidence he’s an al Qaeda or Taliban operative, he wasn’t captured fighting against American forces on a foreign battlefield, and he is an American citizen. And if we are so quick to advocate for our government to act in contravention to law and morality, what are we left with, really?