Over the weekend, several Republican presidential candidates engaged in a rousing discussion of waterboarding, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques during the CBS News/National Journal debate on foreign policy. Much of the conversation centered on whether or not waterboarding should be considered torture or a completely acceptable enhanced interrogation technique.
(Obviously, the best way to resolve this debate would be to subject each candidate to several waterboarding sessions and then ask them whether or not they felt they had been tortured. For the record, 2008 Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain – who was tortured in Vietnam for years – believes waterboarding is torture. However, 2012 Republican presidential aspirant Rick Santorum – presumably based upon his comparable experience as an attorney representing the World Wrestling Federation – believes McCain, “doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works.”)
While the candidates were divided on this particular issue – Bachman, Cain and Perry seemed to think waterboarding was not torture, but Huntsman and Paul thought it was – they appeared united in their support of our government using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” This is not surprising given that anything “enhanced” is obviously good and that these sorts of techniques always seemed to work for Jack Bauer on 24.
In the end, this debate highlighted how much Republicans love giving our government – particularly the CIA and military – the ability to use enhanced interrogation techniques to keep our country safe, even if defining what those techniques are is somewhat challenging.
Republicans really fell in love with enhanced interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush years, when the United States was fighting the War on Terror using extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, and other tactics generally used by, well, terrorists. Former Bush Chief of Staff Dick Cheney has repeatedly defended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques during this time, saying they were “absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States,” and asserting that he was “OK” if the techniques went beyond their “specific legal authorization.” (In other words, his love of enhanced interrogation techniques is so strong that it can’t be contained by things like “laws.”)
Another prominent figure during this time – former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – spoke out in defense of enhanced interrogation techniques earlier this year after Osama bin Laden was killed. He stated that if our government had not used enhanced interrogation techniques, “We very likely would not have captured or killed Osama bin Laden.” This was a sentiment echoed by many prominent Republicans, including the ranking Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) (enhanced interrogation “did provide leads to bin Laden”) and Jose Rodriguez, the head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center from 2002-2005 who oversaw the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (information provided by captives subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques “eventually led to the location of [bin Laden’s] compound and the operation that led to his death”).
What about rank-and-file Republicans? Turns out they love it, too! According to a May 2011 Suffolk National Survey, 78% of Republicans believe “it OK to use enhanced interrogation techniques or some forms of torture on suspected terrorists if they might have information that helps keep America safe.” Also, in 2009 polling by Resurgent Republic found that 76% of Republicans believe that “harsh interrogation techniques of detainees are effective.”1
Of course, this does bring us back to the question, “What are enhanced interrogation techniques?” Obviously, the Republicans presidential candidates are somewhat divided on whether waterboarding counts or not. However, Republican Congressman Allen West (R-FL) recently shed some light what types of interrogation techniques the U.S. Government should use. For example, he noted that Demi Moore was waterboarded in the movie G.I. Jane, suggesting that the staged waterboarding of an actress provides a solid basis for our government employing similar interrogation techniques.
This obviously opens the door for the United States to broaden the definition of enhanced interrogation techniques to include many other techniques successfully employed in movies. For example, clearly we should consider using the mind-controlling larvae that enter humans through their ears from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (Ceti eels), the life-sucking machine in the Pit of Despair from The Princess Bride, and the mutated, ill-tempered sea bass from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. And remember, these techniques are not considered torture. Torture is bad. Torture is having to watch this video on a continuous loop. By calling these techniques “enhanced,” they are really more similar to the soft cushions and comfy chairs used by the Spanish Inquisition.
- Admittedly, I can’t seem to find this actual survey, so I’m a little uncertain about its methodology. ↩