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November 13, 2011 9:35 AM Republicans return to the torture ‘debate’

By Steve Benen

That there’s still even “debate” over whether the United States should engage in torture is a national embarrassment, and the way it was addressed in last night’s debate wasn’t exactly encouraging.

Co-moderator Major Garrett read an email from a veteran of the Vietnam War who believes “torture is always wrong in all cases,” and asked if the candidates agree. The question was first directed to Herman Cain, who said he’d do whatever military leaders said they wanted to do. Garrett pressed further, specifically noting the argument over waterboarding. Cain replied:

“I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique…. Yes, I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”

This generated applause from the South Carolina audience.

Michele Bachmann took a similar line, which also drew applause from attendees:

“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 also would like to say that today, under Barack Obama, he is allowing the A.C.L.U. to run the C.I.A.”

I have a hunch David Petraeus would disagree.

In fairness, I should note that the pro-torture position was not universally endorsed by the Republican candidates, and both Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman were quite articulate in condemning U.S. use of torture techniques. Given what’s become of Republican politics, I’m inclined to give both of them credit for taking unpopular, principled stands on the issue.

But in light of the Cain and Bachmann responses, it’s worth keeping a couple of things in mind. First, in GOP circles, support for torture remains painfully strong, even now. Post-Cheney, it’s become practically a party norm to support torture techniques that America used to consider unthinkable. Though Rick Santorum didn’t comment on this last night, it was just this summer when he said John McCain “doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works,” because the former prisoner of war opposes torture.

And second, Republican debate audiences continue to be a legitimate story in their own right. Over the last few months, we’ve seen GOP audiences cheer the execution of 234 people, cheer letting the insured die, boo an American soldier who happens to be gay, and now applaud torture.

There’s a deep strain of ugliness in Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • SteveT on November 13, 2011 9:43 AM:

    W W J T

    Who Would Jesus Torture?

  • mellowjohn on November 13, 2011 9:45 AM:

    "...Herman Cain, who said he’d do whatever military leaders said they wanted to do."
    that is the most disturbing statement of the night, and should automatically disqualify the herminator (and anyone who agrees with him) from the job of commander-in-chief.

  • Anonymous on November 13, 2011 9:53 AM:

    There’s a deep strain of ugliness in Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse.

    I know, right? Have you SEEN these people???

  • ckelly on November 13, 2011 9:54 AM:

    USA! USA! USA!

  • DAY on November 13, 2011 9:56 AM:

    Slightly off topic, I hope some of you saw Gary Johnson (R) on the full two hours of Chris Hayes' MSNBC show this morning. At last, a Republican I could vote for.

  • Mudge on November 13, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Another ideological point. Everything I have seen indicates that torture (or enhanced interrogation, if you're a Republican) does not work, it just generates lies. Torture is both morally wrong and ineffective, so of course it's embraced by the right.

  • Objective Dem on November 13, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Mudge,

    You said exactly what I logged on to say, except you said it more concisely.

    The Republicans are not only amoral, they don't even care if their approach works. Its policy based on simple emotions and soundbites.

  • Brenna on November 13, 2011 10:06 AM:

    There's a deep strain of ugliness in Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse.

    The election results last Tuesday have made me feel that the general population sees and understands what the republicans are up to. The nominee will have to move to the center, or will he? The GOP party seems to be in a self-destructive mode and they don't seem to get it that voters are shutting them down. It seems to be all or nothing for republicans right now - their way or the hiway. And that's the good news for the rest of us. It doesn't appear voters are going to support these nasty, greedy policies.

  • Danp on November 13, 2011 10:08 AM:

    Saying, as Cain did, that he will do whatever the generals tell him, is another example of lazy thinking. Generals resign or are replaced when their advice is not in the best public interest as defined by the President. What Cain is really saying is, once again, I really haven't given this much thought.

  • DelCapslock on November 13, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Torture is a talisman of power, and the running theme for all of these debates is intellectual justification for unrestrained brandishing of power. It's the dog whistle their audience is listening for.

  • themistocles2012 on November 13, 2011 10:14 AM:

    You meant "cheer letting the UNinsured die," right?

  • samsa on November 13, 2011 10:21 AM:

    The most problematic is the generally authoritarian tone of many of the candidates that you see in these debates.

    If children watched these events on the TV there will be an epidemic of mortally afraid youth crying incessantly.

  • N.Wells on November 13, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Santorum has been bitching about McCain & torture at least since McCain's oped against torture last May. There's no shortage of things that John McCain doesn't understand, and his stance against torture has seen a few flip-flops (see http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/john-mccains-spotty-record-on-torture/238842/ ), but to claim that McCain "doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works" is insulting, ludicrous, and profoundly stupid. (Exactly consistent with other Santorum pronouncements, in fact.)

    More broadly, modern Republicans are clearly uninterested in the truth, but instead desire only pseudofacts that support their world view and legitimize whatever it was that that they wanted to do in the first place. From that perspective, torture works perfectly.

  • c u n d gulag on November 13, 2011 10:25 AM:

    The Republican base is, in a word - base.

    And the 'Iron Maiden' isn't torture - it's there to make sure that your testimony is righteous and 'hole-y.'

    And 'The Rack' is there to make sure you tell the truth and don't 'stretch' lies.

    When's Sean Hannity finally going to take his promised turn at being waterboarded again?

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  • biggerbox on November 13, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Mean, hell. These people are only about a few years away from sending people in train cars to camps. Rush and friends have spent years working on the Dolchstosslegende making the dirty hippies/liberals/socialists and non-whites the problem, and years of underfunding education and overfunded evangelical charlatans has created a population that has contempt for education and thinking.

    The best thing about this crop of Republican candidate is that none of them is charismatic dictator material.

  • martin on November 13, 2011 10:51 AM:

    The always "liberal" NPR this morning referred to waterboarding as "harsh interrogation", but did point out Ron Paul called it torture.

    NPR, to the right of Ron Paul!

  • Werewolf on November 13, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Republicans, 2011-"Ve haff vays of makink you talk!"

  • Dredd on November 13, 2011 11:33 AM:

    "There's a deep strain of ugliness in Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse."

    Like some other commenters upthread this statement caught my eye too.

    Either evolution or a mental disease is taking place in the cognitive processes of those demented people running for the GOP candidate for president.

    Some recent scientific discoveries, that have yet to make it into the knowledge of the broader public, could give an answer as to why this is happening, and hopefully a vaccination at some time.

  • TCinLA on November 13, 2011 12:10 PM:

    Remember that this took place in South Carolina, the home of white supremacy and treason going back close to 300 years now. We should have given that place the treatment Rome gave Carthage 150 years ago when we had the chance.

    It's no wonder those droolers were applauding all this nutty bullshit - South Carolina, the state that's too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum, as was remarked when they finally made their treason manifest 1501 years ago next month.

  • TCinLA on November 13, 2011 12:19 PM:

    @ Martin said: The always "liberal" NPR this morning referred to waterboarding as "harsh interrogation", but did point out Ron Paul called it torture.

    Thanks for reminding me why I no longer give those morons a dime. Let the Republicans kill them off, NPR is useless and part of the problem.

    Well, not all. I do give money to KKJZ, the last real jazz and blues station left in America. Go stream their excellent programming at www.jazzandblues.org

    But the rest of NPR is spineless crap. Particularly their alleged "news" programs, which now repeat Republican talking points as "fact."

  • jjm on November 13, 2011 12:26 PM:

    In the GOP triumph in the 2010 midterms did the 'big' issues here-- torture, waterboarding and nuking Iran-- were not at all touted by the GOP. They ran on 'jobs, cutting waste' etc.

    Why is there this return to issues that, in effect, the voters resoundingly rejected in 2008?

    Well, the GOPers would no longer be believed if they were to chant, 'jobs, jobs, jobs' -- they have repeatedly refused to help create jobs and that refusal is on display for all to see.

    So they return (because as 'conservatives' they cannot come up with new ideas, only recycled old ones) to the themes of bomb,bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, doubling down on torture that proved ineffective and pretending the strongest president to fight terrorists in years is 'weak,' especially on terror.

    Losing strategy, anyone?

  • Conservative1 on November 13, 2011 2:36 PM:

    If waterboarding is not torture and is legitimate and acceptable as an interrogation technique, then our Republican heroes (other than Huntsman and Paul) will have no objection if U.S. servicemen and servicemen who fall into enemy hands in any present or future conflict are waterboarded. A large part of our motivation in insisting on humane treatment of detainees has always been to protect our own. Apparently that's not a concern anymore.

  • Scott on November 13, 2011 3:08 PM:

    You forgot the GOP audience has also loudly booed questions about alleged sexual harassment by the supposed frontrunner to the degree that it was so intimidating that it shut down discussion of what, at least at that moment, was the most newsworthy aspect of the nomination process.

  • ameshall on November 13, 2011 3:12 PM:

    This ugliness has always been in the Republican Party, but the party was smart enough to keep it under the surface and speak to its constituents in code. Palin's nomination and Obama's election changed all that. Fox and hate talkers like Limbaugh decided it was in their best interests to double down on the crazy talk in hopes of turning out the base in 2010. No matter what the issue, the GOP theme was always that Obama and the Democrats were extracting hard-earned money from whites and spending it like drunken sailors on "minorities" and "illegals". The GOP exploited the base's obsession with victimhood and raised the level of resentment and bitterness against anyone who they perceived received special treatment from the government: the sick and disabled without insurance, gays in the military, the unemployed, public employees, and the incarcerated (apparently because Democrats think they have "rights"). Now, the party has unleashed a beast, and it's unspeakably ugly.

    I think historians will ultimately view this period in Republican politics as the New Barbarism. The only question is whether the public will associate this ugly barbarism with Romney. I don't think so. I think most voters will see a handsome, smooth millionaire who has the business experience to turn around this economy. If Romney is elected, he'll have to cater to these thugs, and it will be ugly indeed.

  • JR on November 13, 2011 5:05 PM:

    If any Cambodians survived being waterboarded by the Khmer Rouge in Tuol Sleng prison, I wish they'd come forward and explain to the GOP - first, Dick and Liz Cheney, then these candidates and the audiences who hoot in support - that what they endured is indeed torture.

  • exlibra on November 13, 2011 6:25 PM:

    If waterboarding is not torture and is legitimate and acceptable as an interrogation technique, then our Republican heroes (other than Huntsman and Paul) will have no objection if U.S. servicemen and servicemen who fall into enemy hands in any present or future conflict are waterboarded. Conservative1, @2:36PM

    Nonsense. If it's done BY me, it's not torture. If it's done TO me, it is. You don't think that Repubs would dream of applying the same standards to everyone, across the political and racial board, do you?

  • Skip on November 13, 2011 8:48 PM:

    Biggerbox @ 10:47, agree. They've worked very long and hard to set up an enemy, several enemies in fact, enough to play to many individual fears/hates. But I cannot be comforted by this crop of Republican candidates not being of charismatic dictator material. This is a new century that may not need the charisma if they have the force. The right seems to have developed a taste for puppet presidents, a distracting face at which to throw either adoration or shoes, while the power behind the seat adjusts the world to suit their purposes. Take Herman Cain, who said he'd do whatever military leaders said they wanted to do. Last I remember of reality, DoD was the military arm under command of a civilian president, not the other way round. That kind of weak minded, ignorant leadership is just too easily taken advantage of.

  • Guernica on November 13, 2011 9:01 PM:

    It's esp. appalling that the *supposedly* pro-soldier Republican party would endorse torture. Yes, it's morally deplorable - period. But it's also a policy and practice that directly endangers US troops. Did anyone read the book "None of Us Were Like This Before"? If not, you should. And these candidates definitely should. If any of them are remotely serious about being president, and protecting our troops and safeguarding our national security, then they have to be informed about the dangerous ways in which torture imperils our brave service members and security.

  • PrisionerOFWar on November 14, 2011 1:24 AM:

    We need to take the high road and treat others how we expect to be treated. We would not look favorably if our US POW's where treated in this ill-manner. National Security, yeah, right... That's not what the US is about.

  • Tom Buckner on November 14, 2011 1:53 AM:

    Torture is effective, just like the Republicans say it is...

    IF your real intent is to terrorize your own citizens. To make them fear their own government. To make them do what they're told without question. In short, to achieve dictatorship.

    It seems to me a reasonable assumption, that terrorizing their own citizens is exactly what the Republicans really want it for.

  • Craig Yates on November 14, 2011 5:18 AM:

    This is the inevitable result of President Obama’s refusal to prosecute the Bush administration war criminals by way of his stupid “look forward, not back” policy. What was once considered a war crime is now a subject for debate. Meanwhile we lecture other countries about their human rights violations. What a nation of hypocrites we’ve become.

  • Bill Door on November 14, 2011 7:44 AM:

    So presumably Mr Sandusky at Penn State was engaging in "enhanced child counseling techniques".

  • Paul on November 14, 2011 7:58 AM:

    We are being ruled by a morally degenerate regime!

  • pdawg on November 14, 2011 8:07 AM:

    A few points:

    1. The use of the word 'torture' to frame the debate is itself tendentious. For one thing, it assumes the action of 'torture' is morally illicit. After all, who's going to disagree with the fact that it's wrong to 'torture' someone?
    Obviously it's wrong to 'torture' someone if by 'torture' one imagines things such as the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off, and so forth. No one is going to argue against how wrong it is to 'torture' someone. But are enhanced interrogation techniques equivalent to torture? Is yelling, loud music, sleep adjustment, controlled fear through the use of muzzled dogs, and even waterboarding equivalent to the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off? I'm not saying no enhanced interrogation techniques are 'torture'. Perhaps some enhanced interrogation techniques are indeed 'torture'. But my immediate point is this is something which should be debated. It's prejudicial to automatically assume these are 'torture'.

    2. Also, it's obviously wrong to 'torture' people who are perfectly innocent and have done nothing wrong. But since when are known terrorists who have been caught conducting military operations against our government 'torture'?

    3. Not to mention this presumes we should try an enemy combatant in a legal court of law. The whole innocent before being proven guilty thing. That's another debate as well.

    4. Let's say we have a situation or scenario where we have caught a known terrorist who has stated he has inside information about the specific whereabouts of a biological or chemical weapon which is set to explode in 24 hours in a major metropolitan city. (Maybe he's boasting and laughing in our faces about this.) Let's say it's known if we use muzzled dogs to scare this individual there's a strong chance he will crack and reveal the information to us. (Maybe we have a dossier on him which includes his tremendous fear of dogs.) Is it morally wrong to use use this enhanced interrogation technique on this terrorist to very likely obtain this information and thus avert thousands if not millions dead?

  • pdawg on November 14, 2011 8:11 AM:

    (Sorry, above comment has errors. This is a bit better.)

    A few points:

    1. The use of the word 'torture' to frame the debate is itself tendentious. For one thing, it assumes the action of 'torture' is morally illicit. After all, who's going to disagree with the fact that it's wrong to 'torture' someone? Obviously it's wrong to 'torture' someone if by 'torture' one imagines things such as the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off, and so forth. No one is going to argue against how wrong it is to 'torture' someone. But are enhanced interrogation techniques equivalent to torture? Is yelling, loud music, sleep adjustment, controlled fear through the use of muzzled dogs, and even waterboarding equivalent to the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off? I'm not saying no enhanced interrogation techniques are 'torture'. Perhaps some enhanced interrogation techniques are indeed 'torture'. But my immediate point is this is something which should be debated. It's prejudicial to automatically assume these are 'torture'.

    2. Also, it's obviously wrong to 'torture' people who are perfectly innocent and have done nothing wrong. But since when are known terrorists who have been caught conducting military operations against our government 'innocent'?

    3. Not to mention this presumes we should try an enemy combatant in a legal court of law. The whole innocent before being proven guilty thing. That's another debate as well.

    4. Let's say we have a situation or scenario where we have caught a known terrorist who has stated he has inside information about the specific whereabouts of a biological or chemical weapon which is set to explode in 24 hours in a major metropolitan city. (Maybe he's boasting and laughing in our faces about this.) Let's say it's known if we use muzzled dogs to scare this individual there's a strong chance he will crack and reveal the information to us. (Maybe we have a dossier on him which includes his tremendous fear of dogs.) Is it morally wrong to use use this enhanced interrogation technique on this terrorist to very likely obtain this information and thus avert thousands if not millions dead?

  • pdawg on November 14, 2011 8:17 AM:

    5. One more thing. There's a difference between what's legal or illegal and what's moral or immoral. It's possible for something to be illegal but moral or legal but immoral. Perhaps some enhanced interrogation techniques are legal but immoral, while others are illegal but moral.

  • pdawg on November 14, 2011 8:18 AM:

    The majority of people here seem to be engaging in ad hominem attacks rather than logical, reasoned argumentation. This tells others more about them than it does about those whom they're attacking.

  • pdawg on November 14, 2011 8:31 AM:

    'If waterboarding is not torture and is legitimate and acceptable as an interrogation technique, then our Republican heroes (other than Huntsman and Paul) will have no objection if U.S. servicemen and servicemen who fall into enemy hands in any present or future conflict are waterboarded.'

    I suspect U.S. servicemen caught by the enemy would prefer being waterboarding to being beheaded.

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  • HMDK on November 14, 2011 9:14 AM:


    In response to pdawg...

    Your first point,

    "1. The use of the word 'torture' to frame the debate is itself tendentious. For one thing, it assumes the action of 'torture' is morally illicit. After all, who's going to disagree with the fact that it's wrong to 'torture' someone? Obviously it's wrong to 'torture' someone if by 'torture' one imagines things such as the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off, and so forth. No one is going to argue against how wrong it is to 'torture' someone. But are enhanced interrogation techniques equivalent to torture? Is yelling, loud music, sleep adjustment, controlled fear through the use of muzzled dogs, and even waterboarding equivalent to the iron maiden, Judas cradle, the Catherine wheel, the rack, sawing or hacking limbs off? I'm not saying no enhanced interrogation techniques are 'torture'. Perhaps some enhanced interrogation techniques are indeed 'torture'. But my immediate point is this is something which should be debated. It's prejudicial to automatically assume these are 'torture'."

    Waterboarding certainly has been established as such.
    And threatening suspects with being mauled by vicious dogs doesn't offend you when done in your name?
    What kind of moral midgets raised you?

    Your second point:

    "2. Also, it's obviously wrong to 'torture' people who are perfectly innocent and have done nothing wrong. But since when are known terrorists who have been caught conducting military operations against our government 'innocent'?".

    Until proven guilty, you loon.
    You're the queen in Wonderland, Pdawg: "Punishment first, verdict later.".

    Your third point:

    "3. Not to mention this presumes we should try an enemy combatant in a legal court of law. The whole innocent before being proven guilty thing. That's another debate as well."

    No, it's as simple as that.
    You're innocent until proven guilty. Full stop.
    Because if not, what are you fighting for?
    If you're gonna throw away the very liberties you claim to defend, then why not just surrender immediatly?

    Yer 4th point:

    !4. Let's say we have a situation or scenario where we have caught a known terrorist who has stated he has inside information about the specific whereabouts of a biological or chemical weapon which is set to explode in 24 hours in a major metropolitan city. (Maybe he's boasting and laughing in our faces about this.) Let's say it's known if we use muzzled dogs to scare this individual there's a strong chance he will crack and reveal the information to us. (Maybe we have a dossier on him which includes his tremendous fear of dogs.) Is it morally wrong to use use this enhanced interrogation technique on this terrorist to very likely obtain this information and thus avert thousands if not millions dead?".

    Yes, I too, base my moral judgments on inane and ludicrous what-if Hollywood scenarios.
    In the real world?
    The trained and knowledgeable interrogators who actually do this stuff, and a large majority of whom say that building a rapport and dialogue with the suspects works much better as tools than torture does because humans are social creatures and therefore have a need to talk but when in pain/fear-mode will say anything, no matter if it's true or not, you know what they would say to you?
    They would tell you to stop asking them to sacrifice their humanity by torturing people. Not only because it it is so stupidly unreliable as a means of getting at the truth, but because it makes wrecks or monsters out of the people asked to carry it out.

    Personally, I'd just like to ask you, pdawg, what it is you are so incredibly afraid of in the world, that you feel the need to have thousands of armed guards to protect you by any extreme means possible?
    Another 9-11?
    The first one could have been prevented a lot of ways, torture not being one of them.
    You strike me as someone who's suffered trauma and has gone more than slightly insane in the process.

  • Lance on November 14, 2011 6:28 PM:

    DAY said:
    "Slightly off topic, I hope some of you saw Gary Johnson (R) on the full two hours of Chris Hayes' MSNBC show this morning. At last, a Republican I could vote for."

    I saw him too, but he's the candidate who blew his one chance at the ONE debate to which he was invited by stealing a joke from Rush and the TEA Party about his dogs creating more shovel ready jobs than the Stimulus.

    First, untrue, second, stupid waste of time. We already have eight Republican candidates staking out the stupid jokes about Obama position.

    Waterboarding is torture. We executed Japanese generals for doing it. Hell, we executed American servicemen for doing it in the Philippines.

    The reason the Bushites WANTED to torture is not that they wanted the true, but that they wanted a LIE. They wanted confessions that Saddam and Iraq were involved in 9/11 so they could attack him there, rather than chasing bin Laden around Afghanistan.

    Interrogations get you truths. Torture gets you confessions.

  • fg ford on November 15, 2011 2:34 PM:


    SURPRISE,
    With the REAL truth coming out about TORTURE and WATERBOARDING in the LAWSUIT FILED BY GOODWIN LAW IN CALIFORNIA.. The real value of TORTURE or the GOLDMINE OF MIS-DIRECTION will be exposed not just by the Intelligence agent at ABU GHRAIB prison who recruited a member of Halliburton-Iraq,but the total process of test-bed torture conducted at KING KHALED AIR BASE..by none other than the original Plutocrat..DICK CHENEY..Yes, the very same "DARK SIDE" Dick Cheney..!Guess what folks..!!!water-boarding/torture was found to be completely ineffective when used against a celluar organisation I.E. AL QUEDA,but completely effective in controlling total public attention/investigative agencies so..IMAGINE THIS..a massive WAR PROFITEERING SCHEME COULD BE IMPLEMENTED AND CARRIED OUT..IN THIS CASE IRAQ/KUWAIT/PERSIAN GULF..IS ANYBODY SURPRISED OUT THERE..?? AND THIS FROM A HALLIBURTON INSIDER..SO FOR ALL THESE HERO'S AND HALFWITS WHO SUPPORT SOMETHING THEY'VE NEVER SEEN AND WOULD BE HORRIFIED IF THEY HAD JUST ASK Dick Cheney..for the results of KING KHALED AIRBASE TORTURE RESULTS: CARRIED OUT WHEN HE WAS SEC/DEF..and the massive THEFT OF WYOMING STATE OIL TRANSPORATION TAXES WHEN HE WAS SENATOR..and of course CEO of HALLIBURTON..GOT IT NOW>>??

    Intelligence Agent FG FORD

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