For civil libertarians, the decision by President Obama to bar the prosecution of Bush officials for the torture program was always a flagrant choice of politics over principle. Now a poll ratifies that decision. A poll commissioned by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that Americans are accepting torture in greater numbers. The study also shows a decrease in support for Israel in any military conflict and two-thirds saying that they would like the U.S. to be neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On torture, Americans still reject its use for terrorists by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent. However, the support for torture “has increased by 6 points since 2008 and by 13 points since the ques tion was first asked in 2004.”
This has always been the concern among civil libertarians: that the Bush program would make torture less of an obvious taboo. This problem has become magnified with Obama who has shielded Bush officials from prosecution while people like Dick Cheney proudly speak publicly about their use of waterboarding. The result is an implied message that torture is allowed or tolerated under some circumstances.
The poll seems to reaffirm a famous passage from Louis Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928):
“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.”