President Obama, speaking at the APEC News Conference, responded to statements made by GOP presidential candidates at Saturday’s NJ debate:
KAPOLEI, Hawaii — President Barack Obama says the interrogation technique known as waterboarding constitutes torturing, disputing Republican presidential candidates who say they would reinstate the practice.
Obama called waterboarding “torture” and said it was “contrary to America’s traditions” during a news conference at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Republicans Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann said during a Republican debate on Saturday that they would reinstate the technique that former President George W. Bush authorized and Obama banned.
Waterboarding was discontinued in 2006 as a CIA EIT practice under Bush’s watch (and the last time an HVT received waterboarding treatment was in 2003) as its effectiveness was compromised when its usage as a technique to interrogate HVTs became common knowledge (applied to only 3 HVTs). President Obama’s 2009 EO signed upon his first day in office banning all EITs was basically redundant on the torture issue, since President Bush essentially said much the same in his 2007 EO.
The media is reporting that both Cain and Bachmann would reinistate/support waterboarding, if elected. That’s not exactly what they said, but it’s not much of a distorted conclusion to arrive at, based upon their answers to the question posed.
If they meant they would have supported waterboarding at the time it was used, and that it did not rise to the level of definition for torture, then I think those are valid positions to hold. If, however, they do advocate for bringing it back specifically and not just reviving the EIT program in general, then I have to quibble.
What made waterboarding- and all the EITs in the CIA program- effective as tools against HVTs who were trained to resist standard interrogation practices, was in the not knowing. In the secrecy. Because of all the media attention and President Obama’s decision to release the OLC “torture” memos describing the techniques, the Houdini psychological power of these techniques have been all but effectively nullified.
The CIA program should probably be revived; but now that the magic tricks have been revealed to its al Qaeda audience, demystifying the EITs, HVTs know that what they have to train against is the smoke and mirrors of simulated torture, and not real torture. So what techniques would a revived CIA interrogation program that goes beyond the Army Field Manual have to entail? Whatever they come up with, we the general public should not be privy to.
Transcript from the debate:
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.
Major Garrett: Congressman Paul, my spidey sense tells me we have a debate about to get launched here. I know you have an opinion you’d like to weigh in.
Ron Paul: Yes. Tor– torture is illegal. And– by our laws. It’s illegal by international laws.
Major Garrett: How do you– how do you define torture, sir?
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.
Major Garrett: And that’s time, thank–
Michele Bachmann: Major– Major, I have to bring it up. I have to say–
Scott Pelley: Give– you know, let’s– let’s allow–
Michele Bachmann: I– I– I have– I have to say something on this, Major.
Scott Pelley: –let’s– I’m sorry, Congresswoman, just a moment if you would, please.
Michele Bachmann: I– I– I–
Scott Pelley: Let’s give– let’s give– Governor Huntsman an opportunity to take 30 seconds on that question.
Jon Huntsman: Thank you. Gets a little lonely over here in Siberia.
Rick Santorum: Tell me about it.
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.
From the Romney camp:
After the debate, Romney aides told CNN that he does not believe waterboarding is torture, but that he “is not going to spell out what he would employ.”
Some might say Romney is sidestepping the question; or that he’s not saying what he’d employ because he doesn’t know. But, honestly, it’s the smartest answer to the question I’ve heard from these GOP presidential candidates.