Why do we torture? It’s not to get information, as the Senate report into “harsh” interrogation makes clear. Naomi Klein writes that “torture’s true purpose” was “to terrorize—not only the people in Guantánamo’s cages and Syria’s isolation cells but also, and more importantly, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist—the individual prisoner’s will and the collective will.” Klein’s point is backed up by the torturers themselves, including one of those psychologists contracted to design the program, Bruce Jessen, who said that the real reason for torture was to “exploit” the detainees, to force them to “collaborate” and comply.
Klein (and Jessen) is obviously right. But something else is also going on: the pain, humiliation and death inflicted by the United States after 9/11 has, in a way, nothing to do with those it was inflicted on and everything to do with those doing the inflicting—along with that growing portion of the electorate that supports them, that wants to torture not on instrumental grounds (to extract information) but simply wants to torture. In this sense, Dick Cheney’s infamous appearance last weekend on Meet the Press was one long whistle to the “Torture Party.” “This is why I don’t give a shit how we gathered information from terrorists” is a sentiment widely circulated on Twitter and FB, attached to various images related to 9/11.
In 2011, Pew asked people to complete the following sentence: “Torture to gain important information from suspected terrorists can be justified…” Often. Sometimes. Rarely. Never. Don’t know. The poll revealed that “a substantial majority of Republicans (71%) say torture can be at least sometimes justified, compared with 51% of independents and 45% of Democrats.” More recently, a Washington Post/ABC survey found that “by a margin of almost 2 to 1—59 percent to 31 percent—those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence.” And a CBS poll says more and more people are willing to describe waterboarding as torture (nearly 70 percent) while a majority (57 percent) “think that such interrogation tactics provide reliable information that helps prevent terrorist attacks at least some of the time.”