Torture is un-American, ineffective, and illegal. That hasn't stopped President Bush, but the next president would be wise to adopt policies that not only adhere to the rule of law and U.S. treaty obligations, but also the strong views of the vast majority of Americans. "America stands against and will not tolerate torture," said President Bush in 2004. He was right about that, even if he didn't practice what he preached.
That fact is vividly demonstrated in a recent national poll of likely presidential election voters -- conducted for the ACLU by the Washington, D.C. firm of Belden Russonello & Stewart -- that documents a broad, bipartisan consensus on the issue of torture: Americans are against it, pure and simple.
The poll shows that 81 percent of Americans -- including 80 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of independents -- believe the U.S. should obey the law and oppose the use of torture. These strongly-held views underscore the pernicious deceit of the Bush administration's secret torture policies -- as revealed in this week's New York Times article.
The Times reported that just a few months after the Bush administration publicly declared in December 2004 that, "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms," it secretly and explicitly authorized the combined use of brutal physical and psychological techniques -- torture techniques -- on detainees in U.S. custody. As I recounted yesterday, l Alberto R. Gonzales' Justice Department endorsed the most barbaric interrogation practices ever used by the CIA and wrote another secret memo in an attempt to shield interrogators who tortured people in U.S. custody from criminal liability.
It's not a surprise that these memos were adopted and carried out in secret. Apparently even the Bush administration knew it was doing something terribly wrong, something it felt it needed to hide. And it remained hidden for over two years (the 2005 opinions are still in effect today), until this week's revelations.
Perhaps they tried so hard to keep it secret because Americans oppose torture. The poll also found that a substantial majority of Americans also oppose a whole host of attacks the Bush administration has leveled on our civil liberties. Voters also want our next president to restore habeas corpus, stop warrantless eavesdropping and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Fifty-nine percent of all voters -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- want the next president to do more to protect civil liberties.
And it is not just presidential candidates who should take note. Nearly half of likely voters -- including 74 percent of Democrats -- believe that the Democrat-controlled Congress has not done enough to check the power of President Bush. Congress is a co-equal branch of government and Americans expect Congress to protect the Constitution -- including protecting it from presidential attacks.
Democratic voters are angry because they expected the new Congress to act as a real check on the executive branch, which has been running roughshod over our Constitution. Instead, this Congress has been negligent and timid when it comes to protecting our civil liberties, caving in to the Bush administration out of fear of looking "soft on terrorism."
This Congress has thus far failed freedom. They have given president a blank check when it comes to warrantless spying, torture and other violations of our civil liberties. Americans are more than just disappointed: they are livid. Sixty-eight percent of all voters say the president should not be acting on his own in deciding how to fight terrorism without the checks and balances of the courts or Congress.
Congress has an opportunity right now to start standing up for the Constitution as they prepare to vote on a bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and possibly permanently grant vast new spying powers to Bush and all future presidents, with no meaningful oversight by Congress or any court. Nationally, 58 percent of Americans -- including a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- want the government to get a warrant before eavesdropping on our telephone calls.
As the election heats up, I encourage you to ask the candidates -- both for President and for Congress -- where they stand when it comes to the Constitution and the rule of law. Ask them:
o Will you oppose torture - Yes or No?
o Will you define "enemy combatant" - Yes or No?
o Will you require the government to get a warrant to listen to Americans' phone calls and read Americans' emails - Yes or No?
o Will you restore habeas corpus - Yes or No?
o Will you close Guantánamo - Yes or No?
Let's not give them room for platitudes and broad policy statements. Demand a "yes" or "no." Some things really are that simple.
There is a mandate for change, and the presidential candidates as well as members of Congress should take note: voters want the attacks on the Constitution to end now.