Bricks and Mortars

A lesson in circular logic

By Lawrence Reichard | Mar 02, 2017

I love circular logic. It has a beauty all its own — which proves it isn't ugly. And the more blatant and outrageous it is, the more beautiful it is, like a two-by-four upside the head that is somehow welcome. It's the second to last refuge to which a scoundrel clings, and I have a feeling we're in for a lot of it in the next four years.

My last column was about the Jan. 13 opening arguments in a crimes-against-humanity trial here in Guatemala. I wasn't able to attend the trial itself, but last week I attended the closing defense arguments.

On trial were four former army officers accused of the 1982 rape and torture of student activist Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen and the forced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.

To fully understand the defense's closing arguments, it helps to know that many right-wing Guatemalans deny that the government perpetrated genocide during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. Genocide deniers scorn those who seek accountability for the genocide they deny. Every day during the Molina Theissen trial, genocide deniers blasted tirades through loudspeakers at human rights workers and journalists, especially foreign journalists, waiting to proceed through the first of the court's two security checkpoints.

Inside, the first defense lawyer wasted no time. “The prosecution says people were killed, and yet here they are testifying,” the lawyer said, implying that the prosecution had alleged that every single Guatemalan had been killed in the war, leaving no one to testify about anything. That woke me up.

“Some witnesses were never even called by the prosecution,” the lawyer sneered. But he failed to explain why the defense didn't call them either.

And then began an hours-long clinic in circular logic.

“The prosecution says a door was broken (where Emma Guadalupe was held), but there was no report of a broken door. If there were a broken door, there would have been a report.” As if the absence of a report proved there was no broken door.

The four defense lawyers were bunched together at a small table, and to my shock, in the middle of his side's closing arguments, one of the defense lawyers answered his cellphone and spoke for a good two minutes, eliciting no response from the judge. Later on another defense lawyer leaned back in his chair and did nothing to hide or suppress his open-mouth yawn.

The second defense lawyer dramatically waved a handful of papers at the prosecution. “The prosecution doesn't have errors, they... have... horrors!” he proclaimed, stumbling over his lines. “They should use this for a movie script; it would make a great movie!” he thundered. He had either practiced his lines too little or too much — I'm not sure which. He continued, “Is it possible that a woman was brutally raped by various men and then is OK and goes on to live a normal life and have a child?” As if the seeming absence of PTSD proved there was no trauma.

He continued, “The prosecution says that an S-2 unit did all this; but S-2 is intelligence, and S-3 executes.” That's like saying it couldn't have been Navy airmen, because the Navy doesn't fly, the Air Force does.

Next up was defense attorney Alfonso Lucas Serna, the big guns. He too wasted no time. Pointing dramatically at the side of the courtroom where human rights workers and journalists were kept at a safe distance from friends and family of the accused, Serna bellowed, “If something happens to my family, it's their fault! The whole world will know! They wrap themselves in the flag of human rights, but they have no tolerance for those who think differently!

“I am a man!” Serna proclaimed.

“But they are the public,” the judge offered sheepishly. But the comment landed like a feather on a raging river and it was gone. And that's when the defense arguments devolved from odd and nonsensical to bizarre and surreal.

“The prosecution says that in her escape, Emma Guadalupe encountered, at one door, a single, solitary guard. How can this be? How many guards are there at each door of this building? At least two. In China, Vietnam, Vietcong (sic), Korea, everywhere, at least two!”

“The prosecution says Emma Guadalupe was seen as an internal enemy, but there were no internal enemies in 1982,” Serna said. “The first mention of internal enemies in military manuals was in 1983.” That's like saying there were no slaves in the United States until the 1852 publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Guatemala's civil war started in 1960. By 1982, the war, a civil war, had been raging for 22 years — no internal enemies?

Serna waved a leather-bound book that looked oddly like a Bible. “The military manual says that criminals must be turned over to the police, but none was,” Serna said, implying that the whole thing couldn't have happened because it would have violated official policy and that was impossible.

“Protection of innocent life is the number one priority of the Guatemalan army!” Serna declared. Joseph Goebbels couldn't have said it better.

“There was no complaint lodged!” Serna spat. Yeah, well, if I were raped and tortured by the Guatemalan army, which then abducted my 14-year-old brother, I'm not sure I'd lodge a complaint.

“And why hasn't the prosecution called the minister of defense?” Serna asked. “They won't call him because he will deny the military ever held Marco Antonio.” Exactly.

“How could he lie about them if he didn't even know about them? One only lies about things one knows about, not about things one doesn't know about.” OK.

“Where is the document that gives permission to kidnap Marco Antonio?” Serna asked, as if the absence of such a document proves he was never kidnapped. Kidnappers generally try to avoid leaving paper trails.

“How did the (accused) general get to Quetzaltenango to commit this crime? By car, bus, train, air?” Serna sneered, as if the prosecution's inability to say how the general got to his grisly job proves that he never went to work.

And so it went for two days. Logic took a beating that would make Ali proud. With representation like this, it's a wonder the whole Guatemalan army isn't locked up. But don't worry that you missed all the tortured-logic fun. With Donald Trump and Sean Spicer around, there will be plenty for all.

The judge's verdict is due March 2.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Andrew Ellicott Stevenson | Mar 07, 2017 19:42

Thank you for the report, Lawrence. I can only hope that the examples of circular logic that we find in this country, at this time in our political life, don't rise the level reached by the defense lawyers you observed!



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