Last fall, in a survey of the Americans’ beliefs and attitudes about their "place in the world," the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press determined that "nearly half" of them (46% overall) believes that the "use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information" can "often" (15%) or "sometimes" (31%) be justified. Adding in the 17% who responded that they thought torture can, if "rarely," be justified, no less than 63% of the Americans surveyed agreed that torture can be justified at least under some circumstances.
"Where is the outrage?" torture survivor Sister Dianna Ortiz asked of the National Catholic Reporter when it informed her of these findings. Sister Ortiz, you may recall, was once detained by the Guatemalan armed forces for a 24-hour period in November, 1989—and subjected to torture and sexual abuse, until a man whom Ortiz has always believed was associated with the U.S. Embassy in the country intervened on her behalf and secured her release.
"Where is the demand that this government obey its own law and the international agreements we have signed?" Sister Ortiz continued. "Those who lead us must understand that to support torture—either actively or passively—repeats the brutality of the past. It puts us in the company of the Stalins, the Hitlers, the Pinochets, and the Argentine generals who also found ethically comfortable reasons for torturing."
More to the point these days: It puts them in our company. Too.
Whenever I come across results such as Pew’s—at least six-out-of-ten Americans believing that it’s okay for their State to torture others under certain circumstances—and god-only-knows what percentage really gets-off imagining what their State might do to others—different versions of the Pew researchers’ question immediately come to mind.
To cite just one of them here—and feel free to play with it, and to rephrase it however you deem appropriate:
Q.1 Do you think the use of torture against those Americans who, by their own testimony, believe their State’s use of torture can be justified, itself can ever be justified—in particular, as a response in kind?
A) can often be justified
B) can sometimes be justified
C) can rarely be justified
D) can never be justified
E) no answer
Now here’s one question that I wish the Pew researchers would remember to ask the next time.
Public More Willing to Accept Torture [see the PDF, p. 30]
The American public is far more open than opinion leaders to the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information. Nearly half of the public (46%) says this can be either often (15%) or sometimes (31%) be justified. This is consistent with results of Pew surveys since July 2004.
By contrast, no more than one-in-four in any of the eight elite groups believes the torture of terrorist suspects can be sometimes or often justified. Strong opposition to torture is particularly pronounced among security experts, religious leaders and academics, majorities of whom say the use of torture to gain important information is never justified. Nearly half (48%) of scientists and engineers also take this position, as do military leaders (49%).
America’s Place in the World 2005, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, November, 2005. (For the Introduction and Summary. See esp. Sect. III, "Iraq and the War on Terrorism." Within the complete PDF, see "Public More Willing to Accept Torture," p. 30. Also see Question 33, p. 79 of the PDF.)
"Americans, especially Catholics, approve of torture," Tom Carney, National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (Homepage)
The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, Sister Dianna Ortiz and Patricia Davis (Orbis Books, 2002)
"Torture and the Americans," ZNet, June 18, 2004
"An American Gulag," ZNet, July 13, 2004
"Another American Gulag," ZNet, July 14, 2004
"…interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur’an down a toilet…," ZNet, May 19, 2005
"Torture and the Americans II," ZNet, March 27, 2006