(05/24/2016)
By Tony Russell
tonyrussell..com

2009

"Something is different," I thought. Then I realized the house was eerily silent. I walked into the living room, and saw Kevin slumped back on the couch, staring at the ceiling as if he could see the workings of his mind. The TV was off. What? The TV was off?

"What's up, Champ?" I asked.

He broke off his rapport with the white paint overhead. "What did you say, Dad?"

"You look as if you're doing some heavy thinking," I said. "Anything you want to talk about?"

I don't have much faith in this approach, although Patty swears by it. An invitation like that usually rings the death knell in our conversations. Some teenage version of the iron curtain drops down behind Kevin's eyes, and there's no way he's going to let a parent peer into his thoughts. But tonight, for some reason, he seemed to welcome the chance to talk.

"Sam Alleshouse got suspended from school today," he said. "He may get expelled for a year."

"Wow," I said. "What did he do?"

"He went turkey hunting this morning before school, and he forgot and left his hunting knife in his trunk. When he opened the trunk to get his books, some girl saw the knife and reported him."

"That's a tough one," I said. "You can't have kids carrying weapons to school, but it sounds like an innocent-enough mistake."

"Well, he's already suspended until the next Board meeting," said Kevin. "And he says the superintendent wants to make an example of him so kids understand he's serious about the 'no tolerance for weapons' policy. He already told Sam he's going to recommend expulsion to the Board of Education."

He just sat there, brooding.

"Is there something else?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "You remember that jerk Vic Rigney?"

"I think so," I said. "Didn't he graduate a couple of years ago?"

"Yeah," said Kevin. "He's in jail right now. He and a buddy got pulled over Friday night for speeding. The cop smelled marijuana when Vic rolled the window down, and found ten bags of grass under the seat."

"Guess that'll teach him a lesson," I said. "Some guys think they can get away with anything."

Kevin didn't respond for a minute. "I was just watching the news," he said. "About the CIA agents who tortured people in prison."

"Uh huh?" I said.

"The president said they weren't going to be punished because they were just carrying out orders."

"Oh," I said. "Right."

"But you're always talking about the Nuremberg trials after World War II. You said that it was no excuse for Germans to claim they were following orders when they did something wrong. That it might be a mitigating fact, but it still didn't relieve them of responsibility."

So he was listening sometimes to what I said. Why did it always come back at me at inconvenient times?

"Mr. Obama's a lawyer," Kevin went on. "He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He knows better than to act as if following orders makes torturing people okay. Doesn't he?"

"I'm sure he knows a lot more about the Nuremberg trials than I do," I hedged.

"And the people who gave the okay for those CIA guys to torture--Jay Bybee and John Yoo and for sure some people above them--the president says they won't be prosecuted either."

"I heard that," I said.

"Dad, people died from being tortured," Kevin said, looking up at me. "CIA guys slammed people's heads into the wall. They had guards sic dogs on people. They wouldn't let prisoners sleep for days. They treated people like animals. They nearly drowned them, over and over. They did things that were against U.S. law and international law, things one human being should never do to another."

I dropped my head. "I know, son," I said.

"So how can we kick Sam out of school for having a hunting knife in his trunk, and lock Vic up for selling grass, and then do absolutely nothing to people who tortured and killed or gave the orders to do it? That's not fair," he said. "It's not right. What's to stop more torture and killing later on if you don't do anything about what happened in the Bush administration? Where's the justice for those people who were tortured? A lot of them were completely innocent. Some of them had mental breakdowns and may never be the same again! Where's their justice?"

"The president said he's opposed to torture," I said weakly. "He said this isn't a time for retribution. It's not a time to waste our energy looking back in anger."

"I don't get it," said Kevin. "Isn't all justice looking back? You don't have to look back in anger; you just have to look back in hunger. Hunger for justice. You have to show the law means something, that it applies to everybody. Sure, this president may say he's opposed to torture. But the last president let it happen. The next one might let it happen too. Why not? Nothing happened to the last guys. They got away with murder. It's not a matter of law anymore; it's just a matter of 'some presidents do it and some presidents don't'."

What could I say? I just stood there.

"Dad," said Kevin, "you voted for Obama. You keep talking about how smart he is, how capable he is. He taught for twelve years in a law school. If anybody should understand what the right thing to do is, shouldn't it be him?"

"He's under a lot of pressure, Kevin. A bunch of ex-CIA directors have lobbied the White House to block any prosecutions for torture. They're writing the Wall Street Journal and going on Fox News to accuse Obama of jeopardizing national security and aiding terrorists."

A look of annoyance crossed Kevin's face. "That's all baloney, Dad. You know it and I know it. They don't want anybody to hold them accountable, and they'll say anything to squirm out of it. Sure they're stirring things up and turning up the pressure. But if Obama can't stand up to pressure and do the right thing, how can you respect him?"

"That's easy to say, Kevin," I said, "but a lot harder to do in the real world."

He looked at me. "You always say that courage is doing the difficult thing, Dad. Real heroes live in the real world."

Tony Russell, 2009


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