Fear and Torture on the Campaign Trail 2011

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The GOP Debate on Foreign Policy was held at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Saturday night.  The debate was not on a topic the GOP Presidential hopefuls looked forward to as the Obama Administration – despite their many serious flaws – has had some success in the area of foreign policy.  This is not to say that the Obama Administration’s performance in the area of foreign policy hasn’t been realistically uneven, but they’ve had enough victories to make the topic less than easy pickings for the usual mud-slinging of the campaign trail.

What was more telling than the absence of effective smear or substantive criticism was when the subject of waterboarding came up.  Would you vote for a candidate that advocates breaking the laws and violating the Constitution of this country? Apparently politicians not only think you will, but now consider it a selling point if the laws they advocate breaking involve torture.

As previously discussed on this blog here, here and here (to list but a few), torture is illegal and waterboarding is torture.   This is not supposition, but legal fact despite the Obama Administrations failure to prosecute the members of the Bush Administration responsible for ordering the illegal practice.  Some even consider Obama’s failure to prosecute these crime tantamount to aiding and abetting after the fact.

Waterboarding violates the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 8 – Cruel and Unusual Punishment, which reads “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

There is precedent for successful prosecution of those caught waterboarding.  In 1902, Maj. Edwin F. Glenn was court-martialed and convicted of the crime of torture in 1898 despite attempting to use the oft repeated rationalization heard today about the “necessities of war”.  In 1947, Japanese officer Yukio Asano was sentenced by military tribunal to 15 years of hard labor for waterboarding prisoners of war during the years 1943-1944.   In 1983, Texas Sheriff James Parker and his deputies were convicted of waterboarding a prisoner resulting in Parker being sentenced to four years in prison.

Waterboarding is a domestic crime under the Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340-2340A.  The text of the Torture Act reads:

“Sec. 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense.–Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction.–There is jurisdiction over the activity
prohibited in subsection (a) if–
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(c) Conspiracy.–A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.”

Waterboarding is a war crime according to international law and the Geneva Convention which states, “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuses to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” Geneva Convention III, art. 17.

None of this deterred candidate Herman Cain or Michelle Bachmann during the following exchange:

Major Garrett: I don’t need to tell the people on this stage that presidential politics is interactive business. And, of course, this debate is interactive as well. And we have an email question I’m happy to say, emailed into the National Journal. And it comes from Stephen Schafroth (PH) of Odell’s (PH), Oregon. And I’d like to address this question to Mr. Cain. Stephen writes, “I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases. What is your stance on torture?”

Herman Cain: I believe that following the procedures that have been established by our military, I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration.

Major Garrett: Mr. Cain, of course you’re familiar with the long-running debate we’ve had about whether waterboarding constitutes torture or is an enhanced interrogation tech– technique. In the last campaign, Republican nominee John McCain and Barack Obama agreed that it was torture and should not be allowed legally and that the Army Field Manual should be the methodology used to interrogate enemy combatants. Do you agree with that or do you disagree, sir?

Herman Cain: I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique.

Major Garrett: And then you would support it at present. You would return to that policy.

Herman Cain: Yes, I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

Major Garrett: Congressman– congresswoman Bachmann, your opinion on this question that our emailer asked.

Michele Bachmann: 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 A.C.L.U. to run the C.I.A. You need to understand that today– today we– it– when we– when we interdict a terrorist on the battlefield, we have no jail for them.  We have nowhere to take them. We have no C.I.A. interrogations anymore. It is as though we have decided we want to lose in the War on Terror under President Obama. That’s not my strategy. My strategy will be that the United States will be victorious in the War on Terror.”

Apparently Herman Cain slept through the part of civics in high school where they taught that the laws of a country were only determined by the military in a military dictatorship let alone the discussion of the 8th Amendment.

To give credit where it is due, Ron Paul and John Huntsman had the following to say about waterboarding:

Ron Paul: Well, waterboarding is torture. And– and many other– it’s ill– it’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral. The– and it’s also very impractical. There’s no evidence that you really get reliable evidence. Why would you accept the position of torturing 100 people because you know one person might have information? And that’s what you do when you accept the principal of a– of– of– of torture. I think it’s– I think it’s uncivilized and prac– and has no practical advantages and is really un-American to accept on principal that we will torture people that we capture.”

Jon Huntsman: First of all, let me thank the sailor on the ship. I have two boys in the United States Navy. And all they wanna do is go on to fight, protect, and defend the great freedoms that we share in this country. This country has values. We have a name brand in the world. I’ve lived overseas four times. I’ve been an ambassador for my country three times. I’ve lived overseas and done business.

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. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries. And we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for them.”

Equally troubling as Cain and Bachmann’s endorsement of torture was Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s endorsement of the Obama policy claiming the President has the right to unilaterally order the execution of American citizens without Due Process which included an outright lie by Gingrich.

Scott Pelley: And that is time. Thank you, sir. Governor Romney. Governor Romney, recently President Obama ordered the death of an American citizen who was suspected of terrorist activity overseas. Is it appropriate for the American president on the president’s say-so alone to order the death of an American citizen suspected of terrorism?

Mitt Romney: Absolutely. In this case, this is an individual who had aligned himself with a– with a group that had declared war on the United States of America. And– and if there’s someone that’s gonna– join with a group like Al-Qaeda that declares war on America and we’re in a– in a– a war with that entity, then of course anyone who was bearing arms for that entity is fair game for the United States of America. Let me go back– let me go back and just– and just talk for a moment about the issue that the issue that a number of people have spoken about which is their definition of how their foreign policy might be different than this president.

My foreign policy’s pretty straightforward. I would be guided by an overwhelming conviction that this century must be an American century where America has the strongest values, the strongest economy, and the strongest military. An American century means the century where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

We have a president right now who thinks America’s just another nation. America is an exceptional nation. We have a president who thinks that the way to conduct foreign policy is through his personal affects on other people. I’m– I believe the way to conduct foreign policy is with American strength. Everything I do will make America stronger. And I will stand and use whatever means necessary within the law to make sure that we protect America’s citizens and Americans’ rights.

Scott Pelley: And– and that’s time, Governor. Lady– ladies and gentlemen, — ladies and gentlemen, the applause are lovely. But we will not have doing. Thank you very much. We’ll have– we’ll have courtesy for all of the candidates on the stage. Speaker Gingrich, if I could just ask you the same question, as President of the United States, would you sign that death warrant for an American citizen overseas who you believe is a terrorist suspect?

Newt Gingrich: Well, he’s not a terrorist suspect. He’s a person who was found guilty under review of actively seeking the death of Americans.

Scott Pelley: Not– not found guilty by a court, sir.

Newt Gingrich: He was found guilty by a panel that looked at it and reported to the president.

Scott Pelley: Well, that’s ex-judicial. That’s– it’s not–

Newt Gingrich: Let me– let me– let me tell you a story– let me just tell you this.

Scott Pelley: –the rule of law.

Newt Gingrich: It is the rule of law. That is explicitly false. It is the rule of law.

Scott Pelley: No.

Newt Gingrich: If you engage in war against the United States, you are an enemy combatant. You have none of the civil liberties of the United States. You cannot go to court. Let me be– let me be very clear about this. There are two levels. There’s a huge gap here that– that frankly far too many people get confused over. Civil defense, criminal defense, is a function of being within the American law. Waging war on the United States is outside criminal law. It is an act of war and should be dealt with as an act of war. And the correct thing in an act of war is to kill people who are trying to kill you.”

Apparently Mitt and Newt slept through that part of the civics lecture about the Separation of Powers and Due Process.

Should statements like the ones of Cain, Bachmann, Romney and Gingrich that display a blatant disregard and/or ignorance of the laws of the United States preclude them as a serious candidate?  When candidates for the Office of President of the United States show a willingness to break the law and further the crimes of previous administrations it illustrates that there is something critically wrong with our campaigning process and the culture of Washington in general.  What can be done to discourage such people from either running or in the alternative being taken seriously?  What should be done to eliminate such blatant endorsement and defense of criminal activity in the political class?

What do you think?

Source(s): CBS News, Huffington Post

~ Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

49 thoughts on “Fear and Torture on the Campaign Trail 2011”

  1. “Let me iterate something though that is troubling me by some of the early responses to it.”

    AnoMously Yours,

    Was this what confused you? If so you were right to be confused it was written badly. what i was attempting to refer to was that people were answering gene’s post purely from the issue of the partisan horse race. believe that Gene was making a far deeper point that extends far beyond who is leading at the polls.
    That was my intent with that phrase and in the clarity of hindsight it failed.

  2. Gene:

    Also of great significance is Gingrich on Awlaki:

    “Well, he’s not a terrorist suspect. He’s a person who was found guilty under review of actively seeking the death of Americans.”

    Found “guilty” by a secret White House panel in violation of dues process enshrined in the Constitution. Gingrich and the rest of this gang (Ron Paul excluded) are almost as dangerous as the current occupant of the White House.

  3. Watching theses debates is torture.

    From a pure political standpoint, thus far Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman are the only two Republican candidates who will be able to hold their own and even challenge Obama during Presidential debates.

    I really hope, for the sake of their party, the Republicans drop this absurd seniority rules notion which means dumping Romney and go with either Paul or Huntsman.

    I wouldn’t vote for either of them as their history on women’s issues and Paul’s history on racism disgust me but at least they would present a legitimate, intellectual, challenge to Obama. on all fronts and might even be able to bring many Independents back to the Republican ticket.

    Obama needs to be challenged by a candidate who can actually hold the man accountable for all of his actions during these last four years. Huntsman and/or Paul could do that.

  4. Mike S.,

    I seem to be lost….what is troubling about people expressing opinions differing from what you have added. People can agree to disagree and still agree to accept the other persons position…then again some can’t…..I do not think you are in the latter encampment…..

  5. Gene,

    Great post. Let me iterate something though that is troubling me by some of the early responses to it. Politics has always been viewed by some as a game and by others as a means of obtaining power through appealing to the lowest common denominator of thought. Your piece spoke directly to the lack of understanding many Republican candidates have for the Constitution and the rule of law in our society. This has been a woeful trend through our country’s history, but it has spiraled downward precipitously since 9/11 was hijacked by the Bush/Cheney Crime Family.

    Torture has not only become acceptable, advocacy of its’ use has become a sign of “macho toughness” to a large segment of Americans. Throughout history there has been a tendency of many humans to gravitate towards a leader perceived as being “tough”. Life anywhere has always made us fearful of harm from others, possibly a throwback to our days on the savanna. The evolution of human society arose to protect us from the predatory aims of other beasts. In modern politics the same mechanism is at play and effectuated by defining something to fear. That which is feared must be destroyed and those willing to use all means of destruction are therefore worthy of leadership.

    This is the heart of the message delivered by many of the Republican candidates and indeed it has worked before. The catering to fear incidentally is not simply the province of the right wing and examples of its use on the left are replete. The point is such actions are deliberately outside constitutional limits, which since 9/11 have been disastrously broadened. Constitutional protections in the face of dreaded enemies thus become effete constructs of weak people unable to take the forceful steps necessary to protect our country. This is the heart of these candidates messaging and some have shown themselves to be limited enough intellectually to believe it. Others like Gingrich and Romney know exactly what they are doing and probably have the sophistication to understand and employ the tactic.

    The question then becomes how do we oppose this use of fear and bravado in deciding american governance. Considering the stupidity of the MSM, the corporate billions promoting it and the destruction of Civics/Social Studies education, this is an uphill battle. Our greatest weapon is re-educating the body politic and exposing the falsehood of the premise that external/internal dangers are only resolved extra-constitutionally. I’m not sure this war is winnable, but to sit back and let this constitutional deterioration continue would then be truly cowardly and unacceptable.

    “My foreign policy’s pretty straightforward. I would be guided by an overwhelming conviction that this century must be an American century where America has the strongest values, the strongest economy, and the strongest military. An American century means the century where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.” Mitt Romney

    It is interesting that Mr. Romney’s statement is a restatement of PNAC:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century

    At the heart of the PNAC strategy to establish an American Empire, greater than Rome, was the use of fear to mobilize mass support. This to me is evidence that Mr. Romney knows exactly what he is doing and his “flip-flopping” merely political expediency to attain the power to continue effectuating PNAC, which made great strides under Bush.

    I’ve lived far too long and seen far too many of these “dire external threats” to accept the hype that accompanies them. Right now you can see the hype for attacking that “fearsome superpower” Iran is being ginned up as an excuse to attack them and coincidentally gain control of their oil.

    We must do what we can to convince the american people that their futures are heavily intertwined with our country’s adherence to constitutional principles and to what has developed as American ethical concepts. The true answer to the fear that lingers viscerally within all of us, a remnant of our genetic history, is to create and re-create a society grounded in egalitarian law.

  6. Gene:

    “When candidates for the Office of President of the United States show a willingness to break the law and further the crimes of previous administrations it illustrates that there is something critically wrong with our campaigning process and the culture of Washington in general.”

    The above notion should eliminate O-Bomb-a as a candidate for the office due to his mantra of “looking forward, not backward” in violation of the Convention Against Torture.

  7. Didn’t really catch much of the “debate, ? “but I see Bachman is trying to out do Cain on this subject.

  8. Frankly,

    Violence against Christians continues in Iraq to this day (another recent example here). The US-installed Iraqi government can do little about it, and it will probably escalate with our departure. I call it out because it is a rarely discussed potential embarrassment to the success claimed by the United States.

  9. puzzling,

    I heard about this story a couple of years ago. It’s very troubling indeed what has happened in this country over the past decade. I can only hope that these teams of thugs are not still operating at Gitmo.

    Jeremy Scahill: “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama”
    May 19, 2009

  10. Can anyone deny that there are now polar opposite world views with respect to many aspects of American life?

    Torture is an obvious example, since anyone would have gasped not too very long ago in my life, should any politician dare to support torture.

    Mental evolution is obviously happening relatively fast before our eyes, and a solution to that evolution is going to have to be pondered.

  11. Puzzling – the pogrom against Iraqi Christians took place under Boy Blunder. It was a natural and totally expected backlash against our illegal invasion. Yet another one that those incompetents did not plan for or react to.

    I am pissed that I have to defend Obama’s foreign polity, partly because your characterization is so obviously false & yet you hope it will go unchallenged (and, sadly, will amongst the slow-witted “low information” voters) but mostly because it is so bad. In fact the only thing that would be worse that Obama is anything the current crop of Republicans would offer.

    Nobody is going to be happy to have herpes but when AIDS is the alternative you have to cheer for herpes no matter what.

  12. What are the foreign policy successes that Obama can claim? Return of Sharia law to Libya? Ethnic cleansing of Christians in US-liberated Iraq?

    Is the GOP debate on waterboarding a more urgent topic than a discussion on executive assassination and the illegal drone strikes by the Obama administration in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan? Apparently.

    Obama prefers outsourcing torture, perhaps. Although we don’t know what goes on in the CIA’s unlisted “transitory” sites either, which I’m sure differ significantly in name only from the black sites of yesterday. Most of the GOP candidates just aren’t that clever:

    Under Obama Administration, Renditions—and Secrecy Around Them—Continue

  13. Read an article the other day that while the tea party lost ground in many states in the recent election, they gained a little in Texas. Don’t think I will venture over there.

  14. These candidates reflect the state of affairs in the republican party, currently. Gingrich seems to be emerging as the challenger to Romney. i guess one could join the republican party and work as insider. It would be very challenging for anyone that is not a true believer. I don’t think anything can be done.

  15. If congress and the field of GOP candidates keeping doing what they appear to do best…. It will be Obama by a landslide….

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