Senate Torture Report Released But Does the American Public Really Care?

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics, War

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Published on December 18, 2014 with No Comments

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By Ralph E. Stone

December 18, 2014

I, for one, applaud the release of the Senate Torture Report and urge those responsible be held accountable. Kudos to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, for getting the executive summary released to the public.

The Report is available online. The print version is available for purchase at GPO’s retail and online bookstore.

The Senate Torture Report found, among other things, that the CIA misled Congress, the Justice Department and President George W. Bush about the “effectiveness” of torture methods used, including waterboarding, shackling detainees in painful positions, prolonged sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and slamming detainees against walls. The report also found that those abuses did not help locate Osama bin Laden or thwart any terrorist plots, and were in fact counterproductive.

The release of the Report should have reminded Americans that human torture is not only morally unacceptable – it is also a crime.  But too many Americans believe themselves superior to other countries and thus, anything we do to protect our country’s national interests, including torture, is somehow justifiable.  By using torture, we lose any moral or ideological advantage we might have including the promotion of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

I would have expected the public to be outraged by the Report’s findings and that there would be widespread calls for the scalps of those responsible.  Sadly, polls indicate this is not the case. One poll shows that a majority — by almost 2-1 margin, or 59-31 percent — of Americans believe that harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects are justified, and contrary to the Report’s findings, believe torture produces valuable intelligence.

Another poll shows that 52 percent of Americans believe that “making a report that details the use of torture against terrorist suspects by the American government” hurts U.S. interests more than “the use of torture against terrorist suspects by the American government.”  Only 29 percent of Americans said that torture itself was more harmful to U.S. interests than releasing the Report.

Moreover, when Americans were asked about suspected terrorists “who may know details about future attacks against the U.S.,” only 24 percent are prepared to say the use of torture is “never” justified.  Nearly as many – 20 percent – said the use of torture is “always” justified, while the remainder said it’s either “sometimes” (28 percent) or only “rarely” (18 percent) justified.  A total of 66 percent of American are unwilling to rule out the use of torture.

Perhaps the American public has heard so many reports of our government’s use of torture — Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Abu Ghraib — that too many have become desensitized to it, even condoning its use.

I ask then, how could a country with a Judaic-Christian heritage even consider torture justifiable? But then, I remember that many torture methods were invented during the Roman Catholic Church inquisitions, that torture was also used during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693 and that public lynchings of blacks during the 19th and 20th centuries often included burning and torture.

Because the Senate Torture Report did not cause a public outcry, I would expect after a pause, our government will resume its use of torture even though there are far more productive methods for extracting information from suspected terrorists.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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