Torture is the ultimate crime against humanity. It aims at the destruction not just of human life or the human body, but of the human spirit.
So it’s a good thing that the U.S. Senate last Tuesday voted, 78-21, to ban torture by the U.S. government, codifying into law an executive order by President Obama. As The Guardian explained:
Should the McCain-Feinstein amendment be made law … it will be harder for future administrations to repeat the actions of the Bush administration, which used controversial legal opinions to justify torturing detainees.
Sadly, that’s the most that can be hoped. A law against torture will not guarantee that the government will not use torture, but it will make it harder to do so. If law were enough, the Constitution of the United States and international treaties would have been enough to prevent the George W. Bush administration from engaging in torture in the first place.
All 21 Senators who voted in favor of retaining the power to torture were Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Whip John Comyn of Texas and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republican presidential candidates.
However, the bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, along with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. To their credit, two other Republican presidential candidates, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and (to my surprise) Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted in favor.
On the campaign trail, ex-Gov. Jeb Bush said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary during his brother’s administration, but are no longer needed now—leaving open the possibility that torture may be needed in the future.
The very worst statement about the bill was made by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, who said he’d have voted against the bill if he hadn’t been campaigning.
The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re not safe.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument ordinary Americans are in serious danger from the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State—which we’re not. Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that that the Bush torture program made us safer—which it didn’t.
That still wouldn’t make it right to torture prisoners and suspects. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln led the United States when it was in real danger, and they didn’t stoop to authorizing torture.
The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re too fearful to care about fundamental human rights and human decency.
Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition by Paul Lewis for The Guardian.
Marco Rubio’s Fear-Mongering Slogan by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.