February 12, 2008 / 7:22 PM / 10 years ago

Top court's Scalia defends physical interrogation

<p>U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia attends a National Italian American Foundation gala dinner in Washington October 13, 2007. Scalia said on Tuesday some physical interrogation techniques can be used on a suspect in the event of an imminent threat, such as a hidden bomb about to blow up. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said on Tuesday some physical interrogation techniques can be used on a suspect in the event of an imminent threat, such as a hidden bomb about to blow up.

In such cases, “smacking someone in the face” could be justified, the outspoken Scalia told the BBC. “You can’t come in smugly and with great self satisfaction and say ‘Oh it’s torture, and therefore it’s no good.'”

His comments come amid a growing debate about the Bush administration’s use of aggressive interrogation methods on terrorism suspects rights after the September 11 attacks, including the use of a widely condemned interrogation technique known as waterboarding.

Scalia said that it was “extraordinary” to assume that the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” also applied to “so-called” torture.

“To begin with the Constitution ... is referring to punishment for crime. And, for example, incarcerating someone indefinitely would certainly be cruel and unusual punishment for a crime,” he said in an interview with the Law in Action program on BBC Radio 4.

Scalia said stronger measures could be taken when a witness refused to answer questions.

“I suppose it’s the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the Constitution?” he asked.

“It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game” Scalia said. “How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?”

Scalia, who has long supported capital punishment, also ridiculed European criticism of the death penalty in the United States.

“If you took a public opinion poll, if all of Europe had representative democracies that really worked, most of Europe would probably have the death penalty today,” he said.

“There are arguments for it and against it. But to get self-righteous about the thing as Europeans tend to do about the American death penalty is really quite ridiculous,” he said.

Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Randall Mikkelsen and David Wiessler

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