Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Old Ironside: Spoiler Alert

  Among other provisions, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution stipulates, “No person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself….”
  Generally, Americans of the early Republic interpreted the Fifth Amendment as a ban on torture.  
  In his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution, Joseph Storey wrote, “The next clause prohibits any person from being compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself….”  Storey wrote, “It is well known, that in some countries, not only are criminals compelled to give evidence against themselves, but are subjected to the rack or torture in order to procure a confession of guilt.”
  Storey detested excuses for torture. “It has been contrived, (it is pretended,) that innocence should manifest itself by a stout resistance, or guilt by a plain confession; as if a man's innocence were to be tried by the hardness of his constitution, and his guilt by the sensibility of his nerves.”
Ironside: Spoiler Alert
  The original detective series
Ironside ran from 1967 to 1975, with Actor Raymond Burr (1917-1993) playing the title role.  When NBC announced there the 2013 return of the series, with Blair Underwood in the lead, there was at first cause for celebration.*   Unfortunately, the producers of the new version of Ironside opted to make the retread a vehicle not only for the return of Actor Blair Underwood to primetime television, but also a vehicle for excusing torture.  In a promo clip, the new Ironside dangles a suspect off a roof and reads him his Miranda rights to safety from coerced self-incrimination.  In the opening scene of the pilot episode, which NBC offers here [warning: violent content & bad info on treatment of prisoners], producers and screenwriters depict an offender beaten and brutalized while, again, accompanies by a parody reading of his rights.  
  To the Founders, the Fifth Amendment was not only about having an accused person’s right to the assistance of an attorney.  The Fifth Amendment banned torture.   
  The Founders considered torture characteristic of other countries, notorious countries like Inquisitional Spain, which tortured heretic Protestants and hidden Jews to confess their supposed religious errors.  Geographically and Constitutionally, torture was un-American.  
  Blogging for
Vanity Fair, James Wolcott notes that the teledrama endorsement of police torture is poorly timed.  Controversy already attends the increasing militarization of police tactics. Wolcott wrote of the 2013 Ironside, “We’re supposed to think what the cops are doing here is cool because the actors playing them are so cute, but I don’t think that cuts it.”
  Wolcott added, “Certainly the late John Leonard would have disapproved,” citing the social and media critic who beautifully denounced torture.   
  The implications of the 2013 revision of Ironside are misleading. In particular, Ironside 2013 depicts a “ticking time bomb” scenario, wherein an investigator resorts to tormenting a suspect to obtain lifesaving information.  Colonel Stuart Herrington (US Army-Retired) has years of counterinsurgency and interrogation experience.  In 2007, Herrington wrote that “the so-called ticking time bomb scenario is a Hollywood construct that I never encountered in my 30-year career.” Please consult, Stuart Herrington, "Sunday Forum: Two Problems with Torture," The Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] Post-Gazette, 21 October 2007. * This blog featured Blair Underwood in this post, about the low number of Yoruba brought to mainland North America during the Transatlantic Slave Trade; in this post, about the Brong ethnic group in Ghana; and also this post about how different African ethnic groups responded to the trauma of chattel slavery in North America.
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