Torture’s Partisan Divide

by Dish Staff

It’s massive:

Torture Partisan

Jane Mayer fears that “torture is becoming just another partisan issue”:

This wasn’t always the case—it was Ronald Reagan who signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in 1988. But polls show both a growing acceptance of the practice and a widening divide along party lines. “It’s becoming a lot like the death penalty,” [political science professor Darius] Rejali said.

The 1975 Church Committee report, which was conducted following revelations of, among other things, covert operations to assassinate foreign leaders, was, until now, the best-known public airing of C.I.A. practices. According to Loch K. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, who was a special assistant to Senator Frank Church, its findings were broadly accepted across the political spectrum. “No one challenged it,” he said.

She argues “there was a way to address the matter that might have avoided much of the partisan trivialization”:

In a White House meeting in early 2009, Greg Craig, President Obama’s White House Counsel, recommended the formation of an independent commission. Nearly every adviser in the room endorsed the idea, including such national-security hawks as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and the President’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director at the time, also supported it.

Obama, however, said that he didn’t want to seem to be taking punitive measures against his predecessor, apparently because he still hoped to reach bipartisan agreement on issues such as closing Guantánamo.

And look at how well that turned out. Allahpundit, looking at the above chart, ponders the partisan split:

Both sides are way more comfortable with sleep deprivation and hitting a prisoner than they are with sticking one in a de facto coffin for a week or rectally feeding hunger-strikers. You can tease out a certain logic to that. Practices that the average joe can relate to, like being slapped or deprived of sleep, are more acceptable; practices that are more baroque, like trapping a guy in a box for days on end, or that involve some sort of sexual humiliation, like forced nudity or threats of sexual violence, are out of the ordinary and more likely to be seen as sadistic. (Note how there’s more support in both parties for actual violence against a detainee than threatening to use physical or sexual violence against him. It’s the “sexual” part of the question that produces that result, I bet.)

The one outlier is waterboarding, another baroque practice but one that’s acceptable to many Republicans and a bit more acceptable to Democrats than the box is. Why is that? Maybe it’s because waterboarding’s become familiar over time after so much public debate about it. Maybe it’s because GOPers know it’s closely linked to Bush and Cheney and feel a partisan tug to defend it. Or maybe it’s that lots of righties remain unconvinced that being waterboarded is as terrible as it’s supposed to be, at least compared to being enclosed in a coffin-sized crate for days.

As things stand, Steve M. bets that the next Republican president will torture:

I don’t know if the gloves are going to come off again on the first day of the next GOP presidency, but if we have a Sidney siege with a Republican in the White House and any of the perpetrators are captured alive, it seems likely to me that the waterboarding equipment is coming out of mothballs.

Waldman wants the question raised during the next primary:

My guess is that if asked directly, the GOP presidential candidates would say, “That’s all in the past.” But at the very least, we ought to get them on record now making clear whether they would ever consider using torture again.