In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
The debate over torture continues to rage since President Obama released the Justice Department memos that outlined the legal justification of “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees in U.S. custody. Many have decried the Administration’s move, claiming that it has made us less safe, and some have even gone as far as to claim that waterboarding is not torture.
On this last point, Marc A. Thiessen, visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, cited Christopher Hitchens, who tried waterboarding himself, in his claim that it is not torture. Mr. Thiessen said on C-SPAN: “A common sense definition of torture is if you’re willing to try it to see what it feels like, it’s not torture.”
New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote a powerful op-ed on April 26 in which he, convincingly, argued, “torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to “24”; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the FBI director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.”
Yet, short of a handful of pundits on both the right and left, I do not see wholesale outrage on the part of the American people for what was done in our name to suspects detained in U.S. custody. Although, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 46% of Americans feels waterboarding and other “aggressive techniques” are never justified, and a full 71% of Americans feel waterboarding is torture, most Americans do not even want an investigation into the full extent of the torture. In that poll, 62% of Americans do not think Congress should hold hearings to investigate the Bush Administration’s treatment of detainees. Only 33%, in fact, do want such an investigation.
In addition, a Pew poll showed that even religious Americans are more likely to justify torture of terrorism suspects.
Why is this the case? Perhaps Americans want to “move forward” and not be “stuck on the past.” Yet, how can we learn from our mistakes if we do not know the extent of what the United States did to detainees in its custody? As philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
There would be a diffuse hue and cry, and rightly so. In fact, there are currently lawsuits pending against the Chicago Police Department for allegations of torture. Yet, if the ones being waterboarded are the architects and masterminds of the greatest act of mass murder in American history, who cares?
Yet, when has evil ever played fair? The true muster of a civilized people is not how they act when everything is fine and safe, but how they act under duress. As President Obama said in his 100 Day news conference, “part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world, is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.”