I can’t disagree with Marc Thiessen on this: we lost the torture debate completely.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, launched a six-year, 6,000-page, $40 million investigation into the CIA interrogation program, with the goal of convincing Americans that a) the program did not work and that b) enhanced interrogations were wrong and should never again be permitted.
She failed on all counts.
Just before Christmas, a Post poll revealed the American people’s final verdict. The vast majority agree with the CIA that these techniques were necessary and justified. A majority think that Feinstein should never have released her report. And — most importantly — 76 percent said they would do it again to protect the country.
Americans were asked, “Looking ahead, do you feel that torture of suspected terrorists can often be justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?” Note that the pollsters used the loaded word “torture” (even though the CIA contends that the techniques did not constitute torture), which should have biased the question in favor of the critics. Instead, 17 percent replied they would support using the techniques “often,” 40 percent “sometimes” and 19 percent “rarely.” Only 20 percent said the techniques should “never” be justified.
The fact is, in actual practice the techniques were only used “rarely.” Of the tens of thousands of individuals captured since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only about 30 were subjected to enhanced interrogation of any kind, and just three underwent waterboarding. So “rarely” is the answer that most closely approximates what actually took place. That means 57 percent of Americans would actually be willing to support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques more frequently than they were actually employed.
Not much else to say. They’ve had more than thirteen years to sell the “would you do it to stop the next ticking time bomb” scenario to America, and we bought it wholesale. At some point we’ll use these techniques again, and we’ll cheer when we hear about it.
If we hear about it. The lesson here seems to be to make sure hearing about it never happens when we do torture the next time, because we will.