Tortured Logic

Adam Goldman and Peyton Craighill, writing for The Washington Post, “New Poll Finds Majority of Americans Think Torture Was Justified After 9/11 Attacks”:

A majority of Americans think that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By a margin of almost 2 to 1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence.

In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”

I find this disappointing, but not the least bit surprising. This cartoon by Jen Sorensen explains the hypocritical nature of U.S. support for torture. There are many Americans who see the United States’s role as the leading nation of the western world as entitling us to do things we’d never tolerate if done by others. What I would prefer would be to see the United States lead by example — to be the last nation to torture prisoners.

When the Senate report was first released last week, a host on Fox News, Andrea Tantaros, had an on-air reaction that many found comically absurd:

“The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she said. “We’ve closed the book on it, and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”

“They apologized for this country, they don’t like this country, they want us to look bad. And all this does is have our enemies laughing at us, that we are having this debate again,” Tantaros continued.

I don’t think there’s anything funny about it. I think Tantaros perfectly explained why so many Americans think they support torture: if you start with the assumption that the U.S. is morally good, then whatever our government did must have been morally justified. That’s the thinking. Alas, that’s backwards. Our morality is based on our actions, not the other way around.

On the one side: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. On the other: Do unto others before they do unto you. Only one of those mindsets is “good”.

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