The worst news of all about torture

The torture report released by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence offers descriptions of torture about as brutal as torture gets. And the responses of some commentators who voiced support for the use of the techniques described in the report are hard to fathom.

But the worst news for me came as I was reading The Washington Post's Express, a mini-newspaper that specializes in advertisements that rarely offers much real news. But on Dec. 10, a story on torture caught my eye.

It showed the results of a Pew poll from 2009 in which Americans answered whether the "use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information" is "often," "sometimes" or "rarely" justified. The majority of Americans in that poll supported torture, at least in some instances, even if "rarely." Only 25 percent said it is "never" justified.

Of course, it's all in how the question is asked, and in a Post poll that same year, 48 percent said torture could be used "in some cases," and 49 percent said "never." The headline on that story indicates that Americans are confused about this issue, probably because they'd rather not think about it at all.

Those divergent findings underline this confusion of the U.S. population. But I was interested in opinions broken down by religion, and the Post rarely does breakdowns by religion. Pew does that regularly. So I went looking online, and found the Pew breakdown by religion. Here are the 2009 data on white, non-Hispanic Catholics:

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  • 19 percent say torture can "often" be justified
  • 32 percent say torture can "sometimes" be justified
  • 27 percent say torture can "rarely" be justified
  • only 20 percent say it can "never" be justified

These results ought to cause some soul-searching among Catholic writers, preachers and those in the pews.

Torture is dreadful. The torture report describes truly barbaric practices. But support for such behavior on a wide scale, whether it's 48 percent or 80 percent, especially among people of faith, was, for me, the worst news of all.


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