But something else happened as well. The chief defenders of these methods among the presidential candidates—Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani—failed to gain traction in the primaries, and the one Republican who has consistently opposed these techniques (and who had had some of them used against him in Vietnam) won the nomination. The two leading Democratic candidates have vowed to end abusive interrogation upon coming to office. And the pseudo-legal arguments of former Bush officials such as John Yoo were both repudiated by the administration itself and subjected to withering critiques in the legal community.
We learned, in other words, that America had crossed the Geneva boundaries in the years after 9/11. We also learned that America has the resources to correct itself in the end.
Yes, "we have the resources," and our system has shown some encouraging antibodies -- disclosure, judicial repudiation, at least a partial change in policy. But the outcome remains in doubt. A few caveats:1) McCain has effectively repudiated his repudiation of torture, voting against a law that would have subjected the CIA to military regulations banning torture.
2) McCain will likely pick a running mate who supports torture. And he's 71 years old.
3) The Supreme Court has thrice struck down a practice enabling torture and the government's absolute power over individuals: denial of habeas. But it's done so on a 5-4 vote. We're one Supreme Court appointment away from a Court that accedes to the Bush Administration's insanely expansive view of the powers of a "unitary executive" -- that is, an executive ultimately subject to no law as long as it deems the nation to be in a state of war.
4) McCain has held up as models for future Supreme Court appointments two justices, Roberts and Alito, who have so far shown no sign that they would ever impose any check on powers asserted by a sitting President.
5) Many of those high officials who systematically and deliberately designed and implemented a regime of torture remain in office, and there's no sign that any of them will ever be prosecuted for abrogating U.S. and international law.
It looks like U.S. voters will repudiate the party of torture. But not because of torture. And election outcomes are always uncertain. We're frighteningly close to voting our Bill of Rights out of existence.