Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Poll Indicates a Majority of Americans Support Torture

A new Associated Press/Ipsos poll shows that solid majorities in the United States, England, France, and South Korea think torture is justified "in rare instances."

"I don't think we should go out and string everybody up by their thumbs until somebody talks. But if there is definitely a good reason to get an answer, we should do whatever it takes," said Billy Adams, a retiree from Tomball, Texas.

It's too bad that we can't take a retroactive poll on how many Americans thought torture could be justified if there was "a good reason" before George W. Bush popularized the idea. I think that 9/11 has less to do with Americans' growing acceptance of torture than the message our leaders have been putting out for the last five years. It's the Bush administration's methodical and efficient degrading of the meaning of torture and erosion of the instinctive abhorrence of torture most Americans have always felt that has led to this widespread acceptance of it. Even more to the point, Bush has managed to create a distinction between torture and what his lawyers call "cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment." It should be obvious that this "distinction" is meaningless -- one might even say it's a tortured distinction. It's certainly an artificial distinction, meant specifically to serve as a device to permit the Bush administration to torture people in fact while reassuring Americans and the world that the U.S. does not torture. We do not practice torture. We only practice cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.

This poll, if it is indeed an accurate reflection of how a majority of Americans feel, demonstrates vividly how we have changed as a people -- how we have been changed; how we have allowed ourselves to be changed. In the four years since two planes piloted by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center, destroying the towers and killing almost 3,000 people, it is we who have changed -- not the terrorists.

Think about that for a moment. When Pres. Bush invaded Iraq, he told Americans that we were liberating Iraq and giving Iraqis freedom and democracy. We were ending the reign of terror they had lived in for over two decades. Almost three years later, have terrorists been changed by our ideals of freedom and democracy? Does a broad swath of Al Qaeda's members, supporters, and sympathizers now support a Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion?

Now ask yourself the opposite question. Three years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, do large majorities of Americans oppose secret prisons, arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without charges or access to legal counsel?

Bush's "war on terror" has not changed the terrorist value system one iota. But it has changed our value system. Today, it would be far easier to find an American who thinks pulling out fingernails or delivering electric shocks to genitals is fine "if there's a good reason" than it would be to find a follower of Zarqawi who thinks religious pluralism is a fine thing. It would be far easier to find Americans who have no problem with banning antiwar protest and charging violators with treason than it would be to find a Taliban fighter who agrees that women have the right to wear pants and go to university.

In this battle to counter the violent, hate-filled philosophy of terrorists by spreading Western values of democracy and individual freedom all over the globe, whose values, whose philosophy, is winning?

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