GOP Candidates Pledge to Bring Back Torture

November 14, 2011

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding
Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Saturday’s Republican Debate in Spartanburg, South Carolina, treated us once again to the now traditional quadrennial spectacle of American politicians pledging to torture terrorist suspects.

The debate was intended to showcase the candidates’ national security chops and current frontrunner Herman Cain took the opportunity to demonstrate that he was fluent in doublespeak by calling for the reintroduction of waterboarding while simultaneously declaring that he abhorred torture.

Mr. Cain went on to state that he would trust the judgment of military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. He might find that the role of Commander-in-Chief involves rather more leadership than that.

In any event, military leaders have made it abundantly clear that they consider waterboarding to be torture, which is why the CIA got saddled with doing President Bush’s dirty work.

Demonstrating the same rigorous attention to detail that she displayed in her comments about the HPV vaccine, Representative Michele Bachmann told the audience:

“If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country, and I — and I also would like to say that today, under Barack Obama, he is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA.”

Actually, we now know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was able to mislead interrogators on a number of important details while being subjected to waterboarding, inventing fake terror plots and lying about the identity of Osama bin Laden’s courier. So, not very effective.

Also, the idea that President Obama is taking his orders from the ACLU might come as a bit of a surprise to the ACLU itself which famously ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times as far back as March 2010 depicting President Obama morphing into President Bush.

Not to be outdone by his fellow torture apologists, Texas Governor Rick Perry, joined the rush to embrace waterboarding:

“This is war, this is what happens in war.”

What he failed to add is that when it has happened in war in the past, the United States has prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime.

In fact, Perry is so enthusiastic about waterboarding that he gushed he would be for using the procedure “until I die.”

Mercifully, the moderators chose not to put him on the spot by asking if he could name two other enhanced interrogation techniques he would reintroduce.

It fell to Ron Paul and John Huntsman to inject some reason into the debate – and how often do you get to write a sentence like that?

Congressman Paul knocked the ball out of the park noting that waterboarding is:

“Illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral, and it’s also very impractical. There’s no evidence that you really get reliable evidence.”

Ambassador Huntsman added:

“We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets, when we torture.”

All excellent points.

Former Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain also broke cover to tweet his disapproval of the Perry-Cain-Bachmann torture axis:

john mccain tweet

Kudos Mr. McCain.

President Obama weighed into the controversy during a press conference at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hawaii telling reporters:

“They’re wrong. Waterboarding is torture. It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice.”

Well said, Mr. President.

Since waterboarding is torture, and torture is a crime under both US and international law, I presume that you will now be directing the Department of Justice to prepare indictments against those who authorized its use by the CIA in black sites around the world.

Ah well, I guess I won’t get my hopes up. We know all too well that in this administration fine words rarely translate into fine deeds.

Last Saturday’s debate reminds us all why upholding the law is so important. As a nation we chose to brush the crimes of the Bush administration under the rug and now torture is poised to make a comeback.

We prosecute crimes to deter others and to ensure that the guilty are never again in a position to repeat their offense. Accountability is not something you can fudge. We failed on torture and, as a consequence, we may be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past decade all over again.