I’m thinking about the Billings Gazette and torture today. You may recall that in the days right before the November election, the Gazette’s editor was outraged that the Lewis campaign told the Los Angeles Times that Ryan Zinke had joked about torturing people. I was outraged that the state’s largest paper not only refused to cover the question of whether or not a Congressional candidate had tortured someone, an allegation supported by his former running mate, but then turned it around to attack John Lewis.
In the past couple of days, we’ve learned that the Gazette probably should have covered the issue, given that our newest member of Congress is pretty enthusiastic about the use of torture, going so far as to condemn the US Senate for investigating the illegal and immoral abuses of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program during the Bush Administration.
Zinke’s broken moral compass was illustrated quite clearly by this quote to the conservative Washington Free Beacon, in which he said:
“Did the report put troops abroad at risk? It did. It put our allies at risk who let us use their sites,” he said. “It’s jeopardized our relationship with allies and jeopardizes U.S. personnel abroad.”
No, the torture jeopardized our relationship with our allies and put our military forces in increased danger. The existence of American torture programs abroad has been widely known for years, and the Senate report is a necessary first step to acknowledge the abuses, and should, but likely will not be, the impetus for criminal investigations of those who authorized and performed torture.
Zinke also defended the use of torture, arguing essentially that the ends justified the means:
The report failed to acknowledge “the context of the true threat” of terrorism, as well as enhanced interrogation’s ability “to protect American lives and soldiers on the battlefield,” he said.
On Fox News Zinke defended torture because 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, saying “These people are evil. When you’re beheading children and driving commercial aircraft into buildings and killing our citizens…you’ve got to put in context these people are evil.”
That’s a fascinating position to take. One might argue that engaging in torture methods illegal under both US and international law, joking about them, and then endorsing them as a future member of Congress might also be seen by some as the definition of “evil,” too. During the interview, Zinke took no exception to the idea of continued torture, torture necessary because a poll of Fox News viewers determined that ISIS intended to attack the United States. Jesus.
Fortunately, the Fourth Estate in Montana spared us a discussion of the vexing questions of personal conduct and policy questions about torture before the election, just as they’ve ignored Zinke’s comments this week. And, really, shouldn’t they have? Isn’t the repeated torture of people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime (not that that would justify torture) just a big old joke?