An American (minority) view on torture

I am stunned by the prevalent thread in America that asserts that torture is acceptable, even applaudable. When did this happen? I like to think that that the majority of Americans never viewed torture as acceptable, but perhaps my impression is incorrect…or I merely see what I want to see.

Do the majority of Americans really think that ignoring basic human rights is acceptable? That the ends justify the means? That whomever is tortured deserves it? That when we torture, it is fine; when other countries torture, it is not fine?

Enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT), as we euphemistically call torture done by Americans, is actually illegal according to international law. Strange to think that Americans who have engaged in torture could technically be arrested if they step on land that honors international law. In September 2013, Italy’s highest court upheld the conviction in absentia of 23 Americans for torture. These Americans seized a cleric and then took him to Egypt for EIT. Technically, if they step on Italian soil again, they can be arrested to serve their sentences.

Given the loud support in the US for EIT (torture), it is highly unlikely that any CIA contractor, agent, or official would be tried for torture. (Listen to a fascinating interview with Ali Soufan, who mentions that the use of torture by contractors shocked FBI and CIA interrogators after 9/11.)

Interestingly, Anthony D. Romero of the ACLU has proposed that President Obama pardon those who have committed torture. Pardon people who haven’t been convicted? Yes, pardoning them would imply that their actions were criminal. Pardoning recognizes that the actions they committed—the torture—were wrong. Even if those who planned it and carried it out are never arrested or tried. Even if the American public and high-level officials continue to stand behind the use of torture. Pardoning these people would send a signal that torture is wrong.

The loud drumbeat that torture is justified, it works, it is not illegal, it is what people who are tortured deserve scares me. Torture doesn’t work to acquire reliable, critical information. And torture is not an American value. We should be aspiring to higher values than revenge. Human rights are human rights regardless of who the person is or what they may or may not have done.

Thank you, John McCain, for speaking out against the use of torture. You seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness.


2 thoughts on “An American (minority) view on torture

  1. I’m curious where you’re getting the impression that there’s a prevalent thread that torture is acceptable. I haven’t seen such a thing and wonder if it’s concentrated in a certain part of the country, in certain media, or among certain groups of people.


    • Your comment is encouraging. I recently moved back to Indiana (after living in California for 13 years). Things are a bit more conservative here…actually in most parts of the country, I think. I’ve encountered a surprising number of comments from people (located in Indiana or elsewhere) supporting the use of torture.


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