In 2004, after the Presidential debates had concluded, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan noted an interesting omission from the question list. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry had ever been asked about torture. Abu Gharib was still of relatively recent vintage, and it seemed like the sort of topic that should have gotten some play. But no. We got a free pass. It's easy to keep on torturing when nobody is reminding us that we do it. It's harder when you have to stand up in front of the world and explain why simulated drownings are now part of the American example we try to set for the world.
A couple years later, as new allegations of torture started to trickle out, one of my co-bloggers argued that we should just "rip off the band-aid" and come clean with everything, all at once. Otherwise, he argued, the torture issue would never leave the public eye. I responded that perhaps torture should stay in the "public eye" until we, you know, stop torturing. It's an important issue, and as members of a quasi-media body, we have an obligation to keep it on the agenda until such time as the government and American people come to a consensus that we cannot abuse the bodies of those under our custody.
It's been nearly two years since I wrote that post, and torture continues to dart in and out of the media consciousness. But I humbly submit that there is no more important issue facing the nation today. One party seems specifically pro-torture, the other party just enables it. Some candidates take strong stands against torture, others are equally bold in saying that it is necessary for the defense of the nation.
It pains me to say we need a "debate" on torture. But we do, because it's a salient issue that divides the party. Is America going to be the type of place that tortures? Put people on the record. Don't let them duck and dodge and hem and haw about whether the particular "harsh interrogation procedures" qualify. Water boarding is torture. If it was torture to Jim Crow Mississippians when used on Black criminal suspects, it's certainly torture now. And yes, the media has an obligation to call a spade a spade, and tell us that when Bush threatens to veto a bill that would prohibit waterboarding, he is protecting his right to torture. Enough language games.
If there is a debate to be had, then a debate we deserve. But what can't happen is pretending that this isn't the issue on the table. If we are going to be a nation that tortures, then we need to take responsibility for it the way a democratic nation should: we need to openly deliberate over it, vigorously debate it, and have critical media coverage about it. To do anything else is a disservice to who we are as a people, and what we represent as a nation.