For people who value the Rule of Law, the last Republican debate reached a new low. One would think that the promise of war and torture has now replaced work and taxes as the main issues for voters. To their great credit, John Huntsman and Ron Paul stood against torture as “unAmerican.” However, as noted in prior blogs, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann called for the use of torture in the resumption of the waterboarding program. In the meantime, Gingrich called for yet another war: this time against Iran unless it yields to our demands. He and Santorum appeared to add promises of the murder of scientists as part of their package of promised presidential acts. I will be moderating a debate on torture this week organized by Ralph Nader’s “Debating Taboos” program.
Cain was asked directly about 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.
First, the question starts with a common misrepresentation in the media that there is a real debate over waterboarding being torture among experts. There is certainly a debate among politicians but the status of waterboarding as torture has been well-established for decades as noted in this recent chapter on torture.
Second, the whole purpose of our laws and treaties making torture a war crime is that it is not left to the military in this country or other countries. It is a war crime subject to prosecution.
The questioning then turned to Bachmann:
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.”
Now there is a strong platform: I would like to win in the war on terror. It appears that this pledge comes with the added promise of “by any means — legal or illegal.”
Paul and Huntsman offered the only redeeming moments in the debate:
“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 principle 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 principle that we will torture people that we capture.”
Huntsman then added “We diminish our standing in the world and the values we project which include liberty, Democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture.”
Of course, for those who are not satisfied with a pledge to torture our way to victory, there is always Newt Gingrich. Previously, Gingrich pledged to eliminate the EPA and its protection of citizens from pollution. Now, he pledged to start yet another — and bigger — war with Iran. Gingrich called for “maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems.” Of course, killing scientists is generally defined as murder. Yet, Gingrich appears to have thought about that little wrinkle: “All of it covertly, all of it deniable.” That would be the first overt covert operation in our history.
Not to be outdone, Santorum added “You know there have been scientists turning up dead in Russia and Iran, there have been computer viruses, there have been problems at their facility. I hope that the United States has been involved with that.”
Gingrich also added that war would be necessary “if, in the end, despite all those things, the dictatorship persists, you have–you have to take whatever steps are necessary to break its capacity to have a nuclear weapon.” Santorum, however, wants immediate support for Israel in commencing the bombing of Iran” “We should be working with Israel right now to do what they did in Syria, what they did in Iraq, which is take out that nuclear capability. Before the next explosion we hear in Iran is a nuclear one and the world changes.”
Gingrich appeared to be joined by Mitt Romney in his pledge for war if Iran does not yield. [Recently, I sat next to Romney on a flight from Oklahoma City. I told him that my editors would be grateful if he would unburden himself of any embarrassing stories or policies during the flight. It would remain between us and the readers of USA Today. Somehow the “I will go to war” policy escaped his attention. I actually found him to be remarkably nice despite what was clearly a long day. With the exception of turning down snacks in First Class, I was left with little to show for the long flight.]
It was truly an other-worldly moment with candidates for president casually discussing the murder of scientists and starting another war to attract voters. Of course, this could trigger a race to the bottom. Why stop at Iran? How about Syria or even China? Then there is Canada, which continues to threaten our fishing areas and dump low cost potatoes on our market. Indeed, you now have two candidates — Huntsman and Paul — who have campaign platforms that are entirely devoid of any pledged war. Even Obama has a war to his sole credit. The war gap could explain their low ratings in our new political reality.