Torture has been part of the American way for decades

As the deaths mount, we will continue to beat our breasts about the treatment of detainees. The outcry is not unjustified. My point is not to relativize torture: We should not torture anyone. But we do, and have done so, both directly and with the help of client states, for many years. Just as in war after war, the alleged costs of our well-being have been borne by people we will never see, most of them noncombatants.

This is the price of global sovereignty, of being, in Colin Powell’s words, “the biggest bully on the block.” President Bush and Dick Cheney knew this, and they were unapologetic. Obama knows it too, but he has worked hard to let us believe otherwise, to patch up the tattered fantasy that we are the country we imagine ourselves to be.

Our outrage over torture, like the president’s rhetoric, lets us maintain the belief that we had innocence to lose.