Americans have some disturbing opinions on torture

Updated: 2014-12-22 04:33

By Chen Weihua(China Daily USA)

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Since the Senate report on CIA torture was made public 10 days ago, it has raised some serious questions, such as whether the United States is still practicing or will continue to practice water-boarding, sleep deprivation and other appalling interrogation techniques, especially in a time of imminent threat to national security.

Such worries are totally justified, despite the fact that the report talks mostly about the practice of torture under the previous US administration of President George W. Bush.

Americans have some disturbing opinions on tortureIt is true that President Barack Obama was the one who announced a ban on the use of such torture methods because "they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer", as he said in April 2009.

Obama has supported the declassification of the documents and hinted that if CIA agents are still doing this, "they would be directly violating the orders that I've issued as president and commander in chief".

However, that also suggests that Obama is not absolutely sure if these so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, or EITs, are being truly abandoned by the CIA.

While the efforts by Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who released last week's torture report, are aimed at recovering the moral high ground for the US, it is far from sufficient simply to ensure that such crimes will not happen again in the US.

First and foremost, neither Obama nor Feinstein have talked about holding people responsible, despite the fact that these people have violated US laws.

This contrasts sharply with what the US has done in the past on the international stage, pushing for prosecution of individuals in other countries accused of torture activities. Ironically, the US itself is still not yet a participant in the International Criminal Court based in The Hague.

So while applauding Obama and Feinstein for the release of the report, many people have expressed disappointment over Obama for not pushing for charges against the human rights violations.

Second, prosecution of these people will not only demonstrate a stronger resolve on the US side to reject torture, it will be a strong move to help the US regain the moral high ground, and would truly deter the CIA from practicing these techniques again and again.

Some US commentators suggested that the notorious waterboarding was invented by the Chinese, but Wikipedia does not suggest anything to support that saying.

What is more disturbing, however, might be a Pew Center survey released on Monday that showed 51 percent of Americans say they think the CIA methods were justified, compared with only 29 percent who say they were not justified. The remaining 20 percent do not express an opinion.

Meanwhile, 56 percent believe these EITs provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, while just 28 percent say they did not provide this type of intelligence.

Overall, the public expresses the most doubt not about the CIA methods and program itself, but about the Senate committee's decision to release its report: as many call the decision to publicly release the findings the wrong decision (43%) as the right decision (42%), according to the Pew survey.

The CIA torture report did not come as a top news for the public as well, as the survey shows that while the report captured much of Washington's attention, it was not the public's most closely followed story last week. Overall, 23 percent followed news about the release of the Senate report on CIA interrogations very closely; more (35%) paid very close attention to news about protests around the country in response to police-related violence.

Such a result posed a direct challenge to what Obama and Feinstein have renounced. It actually might send a wrong message to and embolden the CIA to continue the inhuman techniques.

Meanwhile, those who should be held responsible for the torture have been given much air time in the past week in US mainstream media to defend themselves. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden probably talked about this on TV more than anybody else. Their arrogance on the screen has been a slap in the face to international justice. "I would do it again," former US Vice-President Dick Cheney proclaimed on TV.

However, most people may not remember the last time that the US mainstream media gave equal air time to foreigners who were accused by the US of violations of human rights and other international laws.

Write Qin Chuan, in an op-ed in the Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News, expressed that the US needs to rethink its counter-terrorism policies to eliminate torture.

So unless the US takes serious actions to truly outlaw torture and educate the public, torture may not disappear anytime soon in the US.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. Email: