You wouldn't think youâ€™d need to explain to conservatives why torture is wrong. But you'd be wrong. The reaction on the right to Dick Durbin's comments (from the likes of William Kristol and Tim Blair, among many other wingnuts) reveals this.
So I am going to explain why torture is bad. And I'll use very small words, so I can be sure they understand. I'll start off with practical arguments against torture, since moral objections don't seem to matter to them very much (shiver).
First of all, torture doesn't work. When you are boiling someone in oil, they will tell you anything they think that you want to hear just to make you stop. There is no evidence that torture gets good information.
Second, it might get Americans tortured too. If we torture them, they are more likely to torture us. Since there are a whole lot of American G.I.'s trooping around the globe, we are much more at risk than other people.
Third, it makes us look bad. Torture is not popular. Part of our effort to "win" the "War on Terror" is to convince the folks who live in the 3rd world (in particular the Middle East) that America isn't such a bad place, and would you please not bomb us. Pictures in the newspaper of us humiliating Arab men really doesn't do much to advance this agenda.
But even if torture did work - if we got good information, if it didn't put Americans at risk, if it didn't make them hate us - we still shouldn;t torture people. Because the moral stuff does matter, however the right tries to ignore it.
It is wrong to torture in part because you might be torturing the wrong person. When you torture someone for information or a confession, you might get what you want, but you might also be punishing someone who is innocent: who simply didn't do anything but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have to allow room for human error. No matter how convinced you might be of something, you might be wrong. When you torture terror suspects, you are taking a pretty big risk. How will you sleep at night if you learn that the person you inflicted pain on did nothing?
Even if someone is guilty, torture is wrong. When you inflict pain on another, you are treating them like a thing. You are taking away their basic humanity. Part of what we as Americans are supposed to be fighting for is the idea that everyone, no matter how much we dislike them, is still a person who deserves basic respect.
And even if you don't care about others - if you are convinced that someone is a criminal, and that criminals have given up any claims to be in the human race - torture is still wrong. Torture not only demeans them; it lessens us. Torturing another human being makes us evil. It makes us the bad guys. It erases the differences between them and us. The instant we decide that torture is okay, the terrorists have already won.
This is why we don't torture others out of revenge. Some on the right have excused what we have done because the other side does it too. But this is exactly the wrong conclusion to make: we hate them in part because they have tortured us. If we do it too, It makes us exactly like them: willing to do anything in pursuit of an idea, no matter what the cost to others.
What Dick Durbin said was exactly right. He was pointing out the danger of engaging in torture, or even of just abusing prisoners. He was warning us not to become that which we hate. He was not saying that "U.S. soldiers are NAZIS" but that "We are doing what the NAZI's did. We are doing what we hated the NAZI's for doing."
Anyone who doesn't understand the truth of what Durbin is saying is either lying, delusional, or too far gone to save.