THE CHENEY CONTINGENT GROWS…. It’s painful enough that U.S. use of torture is even open to debate. But looking at the results of the latest Pew Forum survey adds insult to injury.

Currently just over half of Americans say that the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can either often (19%) or sometimes (35%) be justified. This is the first time in over five years of Pew Research polling on this question that a majority has expressed these views. […]

Both Democrats and independents have become more accepting of the idea that torture can be justified.

Yes, a year after Bush/Cheney left office, and a year after a presidential election in which both major party nominees rejected use of torture, the number of Americans who believe torture can be “justified” is going up, and now represent a majority.

The pro-torture trend — a phrase that’s slightly nauseating to even type — spans self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and independents. GOP members are the biggest supporters of torture (67% believe it is either “often” or “sometimes” justified), but the other two groups aren’t too far behind — 47% of Dems and 53% of independents agree. All three groups have seen the numbers increase considerably in recent years to all-time highs.

I’d hoped to see the opposite — after the madness of the Bush era, and as we got further away from the horror of 9/11, support for torture should have diminished. It hasn’t.

Adam Serwer added, “Torture is a crime. Torture is morally wrong. Torture is ineffective. It erodes our influence abroad and endangers our ability to prosecute terrorists at home. But like global warming, you can see what happens when one party in a two party system makes something outrageous part of its political platform: Even the most abhorrent behavior can be mainstreamed.”

Thanks, Cheney family*, for tearing at the heart of the American character.

* No, I don’t blame Dick and Liz entirely, but they are key representatives of the callous conservative caucus that spends so much time trying to convince the country that limits and decency are for the weak.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.