Dear Defenders of Torture: Cowardice Is Not an American Value

This is a copy of the cover of the CIA torture report released by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein D
This is a copy of the cover of the CIA torture report released by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. U.S. Senate investigators delivered a damning indictment of CIA interrogations Tuesday, accusing the spy agency of inflicting suffering on prisoners beyond its legal limits and peddling unsubstantiated stories that the harsh questioning saved American lives. (AP Photo)

Incredibly, among all the debate this week over the release of the Senate torture report, some Americans have been defending torture itself.

Think about that: Americans, openly defending torture.

Their arguments apparently rest on one underlying assumption: that the need to protect ourselves justifies all else.

Former G.W. Bush White House communications director Nicolle Wallace* expressed it forcefully on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday:

"I pray to god that until the end of time, we do whatever we have to do to find out what's happening."

"The notion that somehow this makes America less great is asinine and dangerous."

"That's what this is about. Does this help us kill people who want to kill us regardless of what we do."

Here's something that makes America less great: placing safety above all other values.

In other words, assuming that this should be a nation of cowards.

I don't for a minute discount the horror of the deaths of 3,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001.

But if we are to use 9/11 as an excuse to throw away our fundamental values -- and adopt some of the values of the people who attacked us -- we will dishonor those deaths. We will dishonor the deaths and injuries of so many brave people who volunteered to fight terrorism on our behalf. And we will dishonor the ordinary courage of civilians who choose not to panic.

Of course we should be vigilant in defending America. But let's remember that America is an idea, not just a homeland: a nation built not on accident of birth, but on shared belief in democracy, and all that it means.

If you think we can protect America while abandoning the idea of America, then you don't understand America very well.

There's a song that says this is the home of the brave. We sing that song with a lot of feeling.

Let's act like we mean it.

*Also, incongruously, a former spokeswoman for John McCain, a powerfully eloquent opponent of torture.