As the first national anti-lynching conference met in New York City in May of 1919, The Nation described that particular brutality as the American iteration of “the habit of torture,” which had somehow survived beyond “the primitive years of mankind.”
“As a rule,” the historian Edward Raymond Turner wrote, recounting several recent lynchings, “the story of these things is hushed up. If the disgrace is felt at all, it is stifled, and the infamy is soon forgotten. Occasionally this is not possible, and then the event may be taken…to point a moral and bring repentance and atonement to our civilization.”
Whatever the motive of torture, “nothing can explain it away, as nothing can remove the shame and disgrace of it,” Turner concluded.
Woe to those who permit it in their midst! Not only shall their fair name be gone, but they themselves are in danger; they must expect to see this hideous thing, lurking darkly in society, plague them in the administration of their prisons and asylums, show itself in the ordinary life of the base and uncouth whenever they get power, and sometimes, when the madness of men becomes the lust and unreason of the mob, burst forth with all the frightfulness it had long ago in ages of the past.
Surely, it would shock and awe the wise and prophetic Edward Raymond Turner, risen from history, to discover that ostensibly respected—if not quite self-respecting—Americans in 2014 are still defending the morality of torture. And yet here we are. “I’d do it again in a minute,” saith the Dark Lord of the Sith himself.
But almost as unseemly is the media’s portrayal of Dick Cheney as outside the mainstream of American political opinion: that he is, but it wasn’t always so. As Digby writes at Salon, “It must be acknowledged that members of the media were among the first to call for torture…. Even though the excuses these days are all about how the chaos of the early days and the pain of the attacks led the government to ‘make mistakes,’ that’s really no excuse.”
It never was one. From the very beginning, immediately after September 11, The Nation warned of the inalterable consequences of a retreat from the very ideals of “civilization” in whose name the “war on terror” itself was ostensibly being waged. Responding to the infamous Jonathan Alter column in Newsweek (November 5, 2001), titled “Time to Think About Torture,” The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn seethed: