Why the US embraced torture

After reading the various defenses of the CIA’s torture program by various commenters yesterday, I can only conclude that Noah Millman has correctly diagnosed not only why the U.S. government embraced the use of torture, but also its endorsement by many of the very proponents of limited government who should have known better than to do so:

Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. It certainly wasn’t about instilling fear or extracting false confessions – these would not have served American purposes. It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.

I am astonished by the fact that those who are capable of grasping that government control of guns in the name of crime will inevitably be used against the people do not recognize that the government use of torture in the name of fighting terrorism will also be used against the people. And Millman’s observation that support for torture is more a public statement about one’s self-perceived toughness than anything else is particularly astute, and is supported by the language observed to be used by many of those who endorse torture.

At this point, I suspect the average American who does not travel to the Middle East runs a greater lifetime risk of tortured by his fellow Americans, or killed by them in a targeted drone strike, than he is to be killed by a jihadist.

It’s remarkable that anyone is still willing to defend the use of government torture, especially at a time when opposition to government gun control is at a two-decade high, having recovered 7 percentage points from the post-Sandy Hook dip. The libertarian rule is pretty simple. Don’t permit the government anything you don’t permit the citizenry. And don’t permit the government to do anything you don’t want it doing to any of its citizens.

There may be times when torture is deemed absolutely necessary by an individual. And in such cases, if it is so vital, then the torturer should be proud to accept the punishment for his civil disobedience without protest or complaint, and do so with a clear conscience. Many of us would torture a kidnapper who was concealing the location of a kidnapped child who was at risk of starving without a single moment’s hesitation. And I suspect most of us would do so without the slightest concern for whatever the legislated punishment subsequently awaiting us would be.