I found it quite amazing to hear the reactions by much of the public to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The first was the attempt at denial. The second was a defense of torture.
The attacks on the exhaustive report began with the assertion that the report was under-researched and inaccurate. This attack was very difficult to sustain. The report was based on 6 million internal CIA documents and assorted reports, including reports concerning the relative utility of interrogation techniques. It was also not a document that was produced over night. It took more than five years to complete this. This was not, in other words, a last minute job.
So, the initial attacks, though loud, obnoxious and inflammatory, began to collapse. Next came something more interesting, and actually quite disturbing. Among some in the CIA, and later within the public, there was the defense of torture. Most people in the U.S. were not naïve enough to deny that torture took place. Instead, large numbers of those polled suggested that while, yes, it was torture, at the same time it was acceptable because — supposedly — useful information had been obtained.
There are several sources of concern here. Let’s start with the very fact that we are talking about torture. Supposedly, the U.S. does not engage in torture. Other countries have been accused in the past as having been perpetrators of torture, including Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the former Soviet Union. The U.S.A. was supposedly morally superior. Yet, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all of that was thrown out the window and the U.S. joined the list of countries openly conducting torture. And, by the look of some of the polls, a few too many people seem to be quite proud of it.
We cannot stop there, however. Not only are the majority of those polled willing to embrace torture, but they have accepted the fiction that the torture resulted in useful information. What is noteworthy here is that the documentation indicates that very little of use has been obtained by torture. It is all there in black and white, yet much of the public appears unwilling to accept that fact and, instead, substitutes its own imagination for reality. There is a name for this in psychology.
Once a nation embarks on torture, it is forever on a slippery slope. Not only does it lose the right to criticize others, but there is also a question of limits. In other words, who else can be tortured once one has opened the gates of hell? If someone is thought to have terrorist connections, does that justify subjecting them to torture? What sorts of alleged connections justify torture? Can torture be used as a preemptive approach with someone who might, under certain conditions, engage in alleged terrorist activity? Hopefully, you see where this is going.
Torture is not a new instrument in the arsenal of the U.S.A. What is new is the willingness of much of the government — and the population — to quite openly embrace it. And with that step any suggestion of a moral high ground evaporates like a morning mist … and with that, quite probably many of our constitutional rights.