Newspaper article Roll Call

In a Time of Gridlock, Bipartisan Success for Ending Torture | Commentary

Newspaper article Roll Call

In a Time of Gridlock, Bipartisan Success for Ending Torture | Commentary

Article excerpt

By Elisa Massimino

Something important happened earlier this month on Capitol Hill. By a huge bipartisan majority--78 to 21--the Senate repudiated torture and took action to make sure it never becomes U.S. policy again.

The vote was on a measure applying the military's interrogation rules to all government actors. This means the CIA will be prohibited by law -- not just by President Barack Obama's 2009 executive order -- from engaging in what it once called "enhanced interrogation techniques," but what, thanks to the Senate Intelligence Committee report released last December, everyone else now understands was torture.

In a time of partisan gridlock, the breadth of support for this measure is striking. Despite how contentious an issue torture has been, more than three-quarters of the Senate -- liberals, centrists, and conservatives -- voted to repudiate the practice. Fewer than 1 in 5 amendments voted on in the last three Congresses -- and only 13 percent in this one--garnered such widespread support. Republican and Democratic leaders of the armed services, intelligence, foreign affairs, homeland security, and judiciary committees all backed it. That's a big step towards re-establishing the bi-partisan consensus that existed when President Reagan championed the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

It's been a long road back. After 9/11, officials charged with governing a traumatized nation authorized torture and other cruelty. Fear and a desire for revenge left policymakers and the public vulnerable to a collective fantasy that "taking the gloves off" could save us. On network television, the hit show 24 proffered the comforting fiction that security depends on heroes like Jack Bauer willing to do "whatever it takes."

Torture violated our laws and betrayed our ideals. And, as the Senate report showed, the fantasy that it kept us safe was just that- -a fantasy. Torture didn't disrupt terrorist plots. On the contrary, it produced bogus information that hindered investigations.

This is what retired military leaders and veteran interrogators have been saying for years. But the more torture proponents were challenged, the more vigorously they pushed back. First they claimed that torture wasn't really "torture." When the details of abuse became public and rendered that claim transparently false, they claimed torture "worked."

In the face of this PR onslaught--and with no public accounting-- polls found that many Americans continued to support torture precisely because they believed it kept them safe. Leaders with honor challenge people to be their best selves. Instead of asking Americans to have the courage of our ideals and faith in our institutions, officials asked us to be afraid. …

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