Perhaps the most lasting effect of the Bush Administration is the gradual slide into stupidity and brutality that is represented by our acceptance of torture. A recent Rasmussen poll found that:
Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 30% oppose the use of such techniques, and another 12% are not sure.
58% Favor Waterboarding of Plane Terrorist To Get Information
This is the ultimate expression of our fall from a country that actually lived by its beliefs, to one that is so frightened of even the most pitiful attacks that will go to any extremes to feel safer. Not too long ago, I wrote that it appeared that we hadn't accepted torture as a society. That article quoted a poll that showed Americans favored investigating charges that Americans tortured prisoners during the Bush Administration. It now appears that, since we now have an actual person who has tried to commit a terrorist act, Americans do favor it, after all.
There is nothing about torture as an interrogation technique that makes it worth using. It will elicit whatever information the victim thinks the torturers want to hear. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it appears to have elicited nothing useful. The likelihood that what the victim says is factual is far lower than that it is not. The Bush Administration used torture to justify the Iraq invasion. It was recently revealed that at least one time when the terrorism alert level was raised, it was due to erroneous information obtained through torture.
Torture is unethical. Like most unethical practices, there's good reason for it to be unethical, besides the obvious. Unethical practices are generally stupid practices, at least in the long term, and torture is no exception. Its most frequent use in the last few decades has been to obtain false confessions or statements from enemy soldiers or civilians. It was used that way by North Vietnam, which is a fact that Senator John McCain has mentioned numerous times.
To read something like this poll is appalling. We have fallen so far in the last decade, economically, in our collective education, and in our ability to do the things that a society needs to do to stay prosperous and civilized. Now, it appears we don't have much interest in being civilized, either.
It's not a good omen for the new year.
UPDATE: Not too surprisingly, Glenn Greenwald wrote a column about our fear of terrorism today. Here he elaborates why the pervasive fear we seem to feel in this country for something that's hardly a threat to public safety, much less our freedom or our economy distorts our society's relationship with its government:
What matters most about this blinding fear of Terrorism is not the specific policies that are implemented as a result. Policies can always be changed. What matters most is the radical transformation of the national character of the United States. Reducing the citizenry to a frightened puddle of passivity, hysteria and a child-like expectation of Absolute Safety is irrevocable and far more consequential than any specific new laws. Fear is always the enabling force of authoritarianism: the desire to vest unlimited power in political authority in exchange for promises of protection.
The Degrading Effects Of Terrorism Fears
What is perhaps more surprising is that David Brooks seems to realize this is a problem, too:
Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.
In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.
When that didn’t work the official line went to the other extreme. “I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said. I’m really mad, Johnny. But don’t worry, I’ll make it all better.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.
The God That Fails
There is something pathological about our need for perfection on these matters. There will never be a perfect defense against terrorism. Not too long ago, we lived with the idea that we would never have perfect defense against nuclear weapons on advanced delivery systems. Now, we seem to be going apeshit over something that is several orders of magnitude less potentially devastating.
Every day, it seems, I have one more reason to wonder what's happened to my country.