The Torture Report Isn’t Just On Bush—It’s On All Of Us

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he delivers a speech to 2014 Red State Gathering attendees, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Possible presidential candidate Cruz predicts Republicans will retake the... U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he delivers a speech to 2014 Red State Gathering attendees, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Possible presidential candidate Cruz predicts Republicans will retake the Senate this year and that "2016 will be even better." (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) MORE LESS
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I don’t care that the torture report makes George W. Bush and Dick Cheney bad. I care that it makes us all look bad. Now that the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee has been released, more or less, to the public—and that’s a very good thing—we should seize this opportunity to agree that there is no place for torture in our national security toolbox.

It’s time for us to be the good guys again.

Unfortunately, they released this report in Washington, DC, where it is as likely to engender a productive, thoughtful discussion as debating our relationship with Cuba would be in Miami. Some liberals have used the report as fresh evidence for old crimes. Some Republicans even accused Democrats of releasing the report to “appease our enemies,” “put…America in danger,” “make Westerners less safe in the world and once more crush morale at [the] CIA.” And that was just Ted Cruz’s spokeswoman.

Cruz himself, not content to let his PR team win the day, said Democrats released the report to prove that “everything, everything, everything is George W. Bush’s fault.”

The belief that releasing the torture report, and not the torture itself, damages our standing and security in the world is so naïve, it’s nearly endearing. It’s based on the wrong-headed idea that the rest of the world was unaware of the contents of the torture report when Americans were the last to know what was done in our name. And it’s not the release of the torture report that incites terrorism. It’s the torture.

The report put out by the Senate Intelligence describes behavior more at home in a Saw sequel than in West Point textbooks. I could have lived a long, happy life without knowing that “enhanced interrogation” is a translation from the original Gestapo term “Verschärfte Vernehmung,” or that someone decided hummus was the appropriate food for rectal feeding.

It doesn’t fundamentally matter that torture is ineffective at preventing attacks. A nuclear bomb works just fine, but we don’t use it because we don’t accept the moral cost. Yet for years, we—and yes, this is on all of us, folks—have countenanced the small-bore erosion of our character that torture caused.

When did we forget that we were supposed to be the good guys? Did it never occur to them, or rather us—it’s us that did all this—that what we were doing was turning the heroes of our intelligence community into state-sanctioned terrorists? No one read their Neitzsche. In fighting the monster, we became a monster.

Now the bill on our Faustian bargain has come due, and the politicians in DC are going through the motions of patting their pockets, making a show of looking for their wallets. Let’s use the release of the torture report as a confession, followed by repentance.

America is not without sin, but we’re still the country everyone turns to when something goes wrong. Think about it: When ISIL manifested a living nightmare in Syria, did anyone ask, “What’s France gonna do?” Monsters still hunt, and the world still needs a good guy to kill it. If not us, who? Canada?

But we do not defeat the bad guys by becoming a different nightmare. We win not just when we defeat those who attack us but when our foreign policy is an extension of our values and when the way we engage with the world reflects our character at home. Let’s not let the debate over the torture report devolve into a theater of absurdist posturing that follows a tired script of partisan finger-pointing. This is our chance to agree—all of us—that torture is not who we are.

Jason Stanford is a partner with the Truman National Security Project. He is also a national Democratic consultant who writes regular columns for The Austin American-Statesman and The Quorum Report. Views expressed are his own.

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  1. Avatar for hquain hquain says:

    “It’s time for us to be the good guys again.”

    Don’t get out much, do you?

  2. It’s interesting that the same people who tell us that homosexuality could lead to incest and bestiality think that torture is just fine, and does not diminish our morality. After all, it was a tough period in our history, a “ticking time bomb” scenario.
    But that’s precisely when you prove whether you have human values or not. It’s easy to live a moral life when you are under no challenges or stress. But what separates civilized societies from others is that they adhere to their values, regardless of the exigencies.

  3. “…everything, everything, everything is George W. Bush’s fault…”

    Finally Cruz gets it.

  4. He is right. It is on all of us. We the stupid voted in these idiots, except for the appointed ones, who are suppose to abide by the moral and ethical standards of the this country, not to mention the constitution. Hopefully we can fix that come election time 2016 if enough voters educate themselves and see BS for what it really is and vote accordingly. But I won’t hold my breath on that.

  5. Sure, it’s on all of us for having voted that man into office, twice. But “we” did not vote for that policy. There is a reason he kept it secret and lied to us about it. That policy is squarely the responsibility of George Bush.

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