The American people didn’t demand that we torture detainees and embark on permanent war after 9/11. Our politicians and pundits did.
“The American people were demanding that the government do anything necessary to keep the country safe.” That has become a talking point exonerating American torture after 9/11, which a Congressional investigation has recently recently detailed. It is a convenient story: the government was faithfully obeying the people, and the people were shocked by events, freshly aware that the world is a dangerous place. Understandably, mistakes were made.
This story is almost criminally wrong. The 9/11 attacks were shocking and frightening, of course. They did just what terrorism aims to do: shattered the unthinking, complacent security of a peaceful country, and revealed the fragility of things.
It was also a hugely open, uncertain moment. People were scared but, just as much, confused. We…
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