America’s Tortured Conscience, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Earlier today, Will pondered the roots of American support for torture. Keating suspects more gory details would change minds:

Whether you use the word or not, Americans are OK with torture because they believe it’s effective at gaining information that couldn’t be obtained by any other means. The fact that the Senate report knocked down that argument doesn’t seem to have gotten much traction.

If not torture, what do Americans oppose? Things start to change when you get really specific. A recent post on the Washington Post’s Post Everything site by three political scientists notes that when you ask specifically about techniques like “waterboarding,” “sexual humiliation,” and “exposure to extreme heat/cold,” most Americans do oppose them. They’re less bothered by “stress positions” or “sleep deprivation,” which I would imagine is a function of the fact that people don’t understand what they are.

Bouie isn’t so sure:

Americans like punishment. Not only do we have the world’s highest incarceration rate—716 inmates for every 100,000 people, compared to 475 for every 100,000 in Russia and 121 for every 100,000 in China—but we also have among the most draconian punishments of any nation in the developed world. … It’s not just that Americans want a system that metes out punishment, it’s that—despite our Eighth Amendment—we are accepting of the cruelest punishment. And while it’s not legal, it exists and it’s pervasive. In theory, our prisons are holding cells for the worst offenders and centers for rehabilitation for the others. Inmates can work, learn, and prepare themselves for a more productive life in society. In reality, they are hellscapes of rape, abuse, and violence from gangs and guards.

Emily Badger looks at the demographics:

A majority of nearly every group — non-whites, women, young adults, the elderly, Midwesterners, suburbanites, Catholics, moderates, the wealthy — said that torture of suspected terrorists can be often or sometimes justified. A majority of only one other group beyond liberals and Democrats disagreed: people with no religion.

Drum finds public support for torture “the most discouraging part of the whole torture debate”:

It’s one thing to learn that Dick Cheney is every bit the vicious wretch we all thought he was. But time after time since 9/11, polls have shown that the American public is basically on his side. As a nation, we simply don’t believe that a comprehensive program of state-sanctioned torture is wrong. On the contrary: we think it’s just fine as long as it’s done to other people. If we’re a Christian nation, as we’re so often reminded, we’re still an Old Testament one.