Pools used for water torture preserved in the museum of the Guardia Nacional in Leon, Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan dictatorship that used these facilities was overthrown by a populist revolution in 1979. The U.S. spent the next ten years working to overthrow that revolution.
As we contemplate the confirmation process for an Attorney General nominee who cannot bring himself to repudiate U.S. use of torture, it is worth taking a step back and attending to how the world sees torture and the United States' place in the international effort to encourage respect for human rights.
We can't pretend the U.S. doesn't have history of practicing torture. As Tom Engelhardt has pointed out
The United Nations has an official whose job is to wander the world, visiting prisons and detention centers and issuing reports when mistreatment is alleged. He carries the unwieldy title of "Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The incumbent rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, is an Austrian human rights lawyer. As he explained to Der Spiegel, being the U.N.'s man on the torture beat is a pretty ghastly job.
But, as a European, he is most distressed by the behavior of the countries he identifies with:
On occasion, Nowak has been even more pointed in his criticism of the United State's adoption of torture. This week he released his findings that torture is routine and widespread in Sri Lanka -- and emphasized how U.S. practices lend support to torture regimes.
I'm afraid the answer to the question Nowak can't answer is that U.S. adoption of torture signals that it should no longer claim to be "democratic country."
We can hold all the elections we want, but if the people can't reign in the torturers -- if the people will not or can not lay down a moral and legal line that defines torture as intrinsically unconscionable, criminal -- our "democratic" model is definitively useless and dead.