WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is joining the debate over the Senate’s torture report by saying it’s hard to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened.
Scalia told a Swiss broadcast network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous.
The 78-year-old justice said he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all,” especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb. Scalia has made similar comments in the past, but he renewed his remarks on Wednesday in an interview with Radio Television Suisse, a day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA’s harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. RTS aired the interview on Friday.
“Listen, I think it’s very facile for people to say, ‘Oh, torture is terrible.’ You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?” Scalia said.
Scalia also said that while there are U.S. laws against torture, nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists. “I don’t know what article of the Constitution that would contravene,” he said. Scalia spent a college semester in Switzerland at the University of Fribourg.
The 30-minute interview touched on a range of topics, including the financing of political campaigns, the death penalty and gay marriage, about which Scalia said he should not comment because it is likely the court soon will have the issue before it. Asked about money and U.S. elections, Scalia scoffed that “women may pay more each year to buy cosmetics” than is spent on local, state and federal elections combined.
His comments about interrogation techniques echoed other remarks he has made to foreign audiences. In 2008, he used the example of the hidden bomb. “It seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say you couldn’t, I don’t know, stick something under the fingernail, smack him in the face. It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that,” he said.
A year earlier, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that Scalia invoked fictional TV counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer using torture to get terrorism suspects to reveal information that could help authorities foil an imminent attack.
“Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so,” he said. “So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.”
In January, Scalia seemed less concerned about the safety of residents of Los Angeles when the court heard arguments about whether anonymous tips could justify a traffic stop. Urging the lawyer for two suspects appealing their conviction to stand firm, Scalia suggested that not even information that a carload of terrorists heading to Los Angeles with an atomic bomb would be enough to justify police stopping the car, if the tip came from an anonymous source.
“I want you to say, ‘Let the car go. Bye-bye, LA,’“ Scalia said.