05/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

America Did Torture -- Lincoln's Assassins

The torture memos are being released today and will undoubtedly appall us.

But keep in mind that there is precedent for the U.S. government torturing:

All eight of those brought to trial ... were locked up in single cells, each only 3.5 feet wide by 7 feet long. Six had canvas hoods pulled over their heads and tied tightly around their necks, with removal allowed only when they sat in court. Slits in the cloth enabled them to breathe and eat. Two had metal balls chained to their legs. The aim was to isolate them in a manner both merciless and unforgiving. Latitude was given for prison authorities to impose even harsher restrictions to prevent their "cheating the gallows by self-destruction."

For six weeks during the trial, detainees endured what one of them condemned as "the torture of the bag." Another tried to commit suicide by pounding his head with the ball chained to his leg. The prison doctor, recoiling at the padded hoods that pressed firmly against their eye sockets, demanded they be removed forthwith and the detainees allowed outdoors to exercise in the open air, failing which, he warned, the secretary of war would have "a lot of lunatics on his hands." Only then did authorities yield.

The prisoners in question were those involved in the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln. You can read here the whole story of their trial and how the national reaction to Lincoln's killing mirrored the national reaction to 9/11.

(And to be clear: Torture is wrong. We shouldn't torture. Period.)