Crosses and vampires

Should the people who ordered the beating, flogging, and gassing of the Bloody Sunday marchers have been held criminally accountable for it? If so, how do they differ from John Yoo and Dick Cheney?

Rich Yeselson remarks that Obama’s appointments to torture-relevant positions in the White House and DoJ are “like crosses held up to Cheney’s Dracula.” Wish I’d said that.

Just now on NPR John Lewis was talking about Bloody Sunday, when a horde of Alabama State Troopers beat, whipped, and gassed marchers in a peaceful voting rights demonstration. That was only part, of course, of a decades-long campaign of official and unofficial terrorism aimed at maintaining the system of racial domination. Very few private citizens, and virtually no public officials, were ever prosecuted for their roles in that terrorist campaign.

It’s easy to forget it now, but back then the question of equality for blacks, and especially voting rights, was considered a policy question, with (otherwise) respectable voices on both sides, just like the question of torture today. No one denied with a straight face that the laws had been broken, but to some those violations seemed to be justified by necessity: to defeat “Islamofascism” now, to protect the “civilized” whites of the South against being ruled by their inferiors then. (That was the view of William F. Buckley, for example.)

So here’s my question to those who warn against “criminalizing policy differences” by putting on trial torturers, those who ordered torture, and those who provided legal opinions intended to facilitate torture: Was it right to give the official white terrorists of the South effective amnesty for the crimes they committed against the foot-soldiers of the Second Reconstruction? If it wasn’t right, what’s the morally significant difference?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: