Thursday, May 7, 2009

Torture and Democratic Left

The torture debate is now the most polarizing issue in national politics. President Obama outlawed use of extreme interrogation methods as one of this first acts, but the Democratic left wants to prosecute anyone associated with it over the last nine years, from lawyers who offered legal opinions on the subject to middle management in the intelligence business and their political superiors down to the field operatives.

Listening to the House and Senate committee chairs who are calling for investigation and reading the liberal blogs make clear the issue is much like abortion – extreme liberals believe it is an absolute protected right with no restrictions and for conservatives abortion is murder.

For extreme conservatives, torture is a necessary technique needed to protect lives and the country, no ban is justified. For liberals, it’s immoral – period. There are no exceptions.

The public takes a more nuanced view, with about 15 percent believing torture is an acceptable interrogation technique (can be “justified often”) and 25 percent believing it can “never” be used. More than one-half of the public believe it is acceptable sometimes, including 22 percent who believe it can be used rarely.

The issue divides the country nearly in half, with 49 percent believing torture can be used “often” or “sometimes” and 47 percent “rarely” or “never.” Although more than four-fifths of the public believe torture is wrong, at least 71 percent believe it can be used in some cases.

Obama is right. If he lets Congress proceed with the investigations, there will be a major battle – the left will likely win, but it will be bloody, distracting from his domestic agenda. In addition, a new 9/11-type event would rapidly shift opinion to the right because much of the public is pragmatic on the issue.

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