Monday, November 14, 2011

Herman Cain & Ron Paul on torture

I don't feel I have either the time or the inclination to keep watching the seemingly endless series of televised "debates" between the Republican presidential candidates, so I rely on news reports and on trustworthy analysts like Fred Kaplan ("If you like watching something scary, you would have liked Saturday's Republican presidential debate about foreign policy.") and Jonathan Turley. And even if I were watching them, I wouldn't feel moved to try to comment on them in detail. But one set of exchanges from the latest Republican debate does seem worth highlighting.

The candidates were asked whether the US should resume the Bush/Cheney policy of torturing suspected terrorists. Almost all of them said yes with alacrity, but a few of the answers were more bizarre and convoluted than the others.

Herman Cain is opposed to torture, period ... except that he isn't, exactly:
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.

Moderator: Mr. Cain, of course you’re familiar with the long-running debate we’ve had about whether waterboarding constitutes torture [....] 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.

Moderator: 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.
Then there's Ron Paul. I happen to consider consider Ron Paul a dangerous crackpot and a poisonously reactionary political troglodyte. I don't share the view, unfortunately too widespread, that he should be treated with sympathetic indulgence merely because his chances of actually becoming President are negligible. However, one should give credit where credit is due. His answer to that question about torture was on-target and commendably straightforward:
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.”
Fred Kaplan sums it up:
Only Paul and Huntsman spoke up for the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogation. Huntsman noted with a grave expression: “This country has values. I’ve lived overseas four times.… We diminish our standing in the world when we engage in torture. Waterboarding is torture.”

Gingrich wasn’t asked the torture question, but he did say that the nation needs to throw out all the CIA reforms that the Church Committee passed in the 1970s.

Romney wasn’t asked the question (too bad) [....]
By the way, Fred Kaplan's roundup of this debate is worth reading in full. And it's hard to disagree with his overall impression:
God help us if any of these jokers makes it into the White House.
=> And speaking of giving credit where credit is due, here are two examples of John McCain talking about torture and US policy, earlier this year ...

... and as part of a wider conversation in in 2009 ...

One can agree or disagree with McCain on various other issues that come up in these two discussions. But not, in my opinion, on these central points: "Waterboarding is torture". And a policy of torturing prisoners violates the Geneva Convention, US law, elementary decency, America's highest values and traditions, and our genuine national interests.

—Jeff Weintraub