I am tolerant. I have Republican friends. When racists speak in my presence, I don’t smash them in the jaw. I try to change their minds. Many of my close friends and relatives believe in God, which is wrong and therefore stupid, yet I don’t consider them stupid — just mistaken. America, I believe, must create and maintain the space where a multitude of points of view can thrive.
But there are limits. Not every opinion should be tolerated. If you think torture is OK — under any circumstance, for any reason — you are dangerous. If you believe that “they” had torture coming because “they” attacked “us” on 9/11, or because “they” chop off “our” heads, you are psychotic and sociopathic and should not be free to walk the streets, much less sit on juries or vote or drive a car or hold a job that a perfectly sane unemployed person needs.
If you diminish the exquisite horror of torture — if you think sleep deprivation and blasting loud music into victims’ ears and solitary confinement and stress positions and mock executions and beatings are not “really” torture — I want you locked up, the key thrown away, never to be heard from again.
You are not fit to be near children or animals.
If you saw the Abu Ghraib torture photos and then voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 anyway, you are Charles Manson crazy and there is no place in society, in America, on this planet, where you ought to be allowed.
If you’re a politician, a reporter or a pundit, and you’ve ever said anything in favor of torture, you should be fired and never heard from in public again.
I did not feel this way before the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on torture under the Bush administration. Over the last week, however, I have read thousands of pro-torture, right-wing loons post their monstrous ravings on Internet content boards. I have watched a parade of torture advocates go on television to defend CIA torturers, some with impressive-sounding titles, all treated respectfully by so-called journalists.
I have seen former Vice President Dick Cheney, grand inquisitor of the war against Muslims, lie through his crooked teeth while scoffing at the most basic values of Western civilization.
Now, already, I am watching torture fade from the headlines.
We have been too tolerant. Anti-torture Americans — which is to say, sane, normal people — have been way too polite over the past 12 years. We ought to have been rude. We should have shouted down the torturers and their supporters and apologists, ridiculed them, locked them away, fired them from their jobs, taken away their kids.
We debated torture; we didn’t reject it. Now torture is normalized — and so is the stupid meanness that goes with it.
A senior Supreme Court justice not only thinks torture is OK, but gives credit to the thoroughly debunked “ticking time bomb” scenario.
In the mainstream media, the debate is not over whether torture is immoral or illegal, but whether it is effective.
We tolerate scum like ex-CIA director Michael Hayden, who justifies so-called “rectal feeding” — grinding a prisoner’s food into mush and shoving it up his ass — with rhetoric that is not only vile on its face, but insults our intelligence to the point that he ought to be banned from public life: “It’s a medical procedure is what it is,” Hayden told CNN. “I have learned that in some instances, one way that you can get nourishment into a person is through this procedure as opposed to intravenous feeding, which of course involves needles and a whole bunch of other dangerous things.”
Hayden is a liar. Victims of “rectal feeding” had not refused to eat normally. Torture memo author John Yoo called them “aggressive interrogation methods that did not cause any long-term or permanent injury.” Isn’t death permanent?
Yoo ought to be in prison. Instead, he draws a six-figure salary teaching law (!) at U.C. Berkeley.
Columnist Jonah Goldberg is trying to pass himself off as a “reasonable conservative” by arguing for ambiguity: “One of the great problems with the word ‘torture’ is that it tolerates no ambiguity. It is a taboo word, like racism or incest. Once you call something torture, the conversation is supposed to end.”
In the West, civilized countries banned torture in the 18th century. In 1798, for example, Napoleon wrote that the “barbarous custom of whipping men suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this method of interrogation, by putting men to the torture, is useless.
“The wretches say whatever comes into their heads and whatever they think one wants to believe.”
“Before the 9/11 attacks, torture was almost always depicted on television and movies as something that bad guys did. That’s not true anymore. The Bush administration may be over, but Bush-era terrorist torture and assassination policies are growing more popular,” Amy Zegart wrote in a 2012 Foreign Policy piece titled “Torture Creep.”
You need only look at the trend line to see how Americans are becoming increasingly morally depraved: At the height of the war on terror in 2004, when Bush was re-elected despite everything, 32 percent of Americans said torture was never justifiable.
By 2011, two years after Obama claimed to have banned torture, only 24 percent said the same thing.
Here’s some American exceptionalism for you: 59 percent of people in other countries have zero tolerance for torture. “Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, says, “The dominant view around the world is that terrorism does not warrant bending the rules against torture.”
This is not a discussion Americans should have any more.
Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically acclaimed book After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan. © 2014 Ted Rall