Home National Politics The Return of Torture As National Policy Under Romney

The Return of Torture As National Policy Under Romney


A chilling article in The New York Times by Charles Savage indicates that, if Romney is elected, he will probably re-institute the “enhanced interrogation” methods approved by President George W. Bush, which Mr. Obama, in one of his first acts as President, abolished by executive order. You will recall these “enhanced” techniques included “prolonged sleep deprivation, shackling into painful ‘stress’ positions for long periods while naked and in a cold room, slamming into a wall, locking inside a small box, and the suffocation tactic called waterboarding,”  as well as other methods such as slapping, head-grabbing, and withholding solid food (starvation tactic).

The Bush doctrine on torture as national policy, once disclosed, “ignited a heated debate,” one in which Republican Senator John McCain tried to codify limits on torture in our domestic statutes, over strenuous objections from the Bush administration. In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled against Bush, holding that the Geneva Conventions applied to wartime al Qaeda prisoners—- but I suspect that some forms of torture did continue under the Bush regime, excused by a kind of picky bureaucratic hair-splitting.

In September 2011 Mr. Romney’s advisors (almost all of whom are from Bush’s cadre of torture-approving lawyers) issued a policy proposal memo which urged Romney to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order,” effectively re-instating those  so-called enhanced techniques, which “go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.” The Army Field Manual referred to is what President Obama cited in his executive order restricting interrogators to its list of non-abusive tactics. Last December, Romney said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., that “we’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.”  His advisors contend that Mr. Obama “permanently damaged” the value of those torture techniques because he released a memorandum giving details of Bush-era techniques in April; the Army Field Manual is actually on-line, available for study by our enemies.

President Obama has consistently followed a “more expansive conception of the suffering that is off-limits,” in contrast to the narrow definition of torture used by Bush and, now, Romney, one which claims the harsh treatment approved by Bush is not, strictly speaking, “torture.” Mr. Obama says waterboarding is torture; Mr. Romney says it is not. The Republicans’ view is that we are justified in using such techniques on “high value” terrorists in order to extract information and protect America. Obama’s view is that torture is “contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. That’s not who we are… We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.”  Note, however, that President Obama has been “hawkish” on other counter-terrorism issues, like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention , killing bin Laden,and extension of the Patriot Act.

One of the many reasons I myself left the Republican Party was Bush’s decision to make torture national policy. No matter how Bush chose prissily to define torture, it is morally indefensible for America formally to approve it. Once you start down this slippery slope there is, frankly, no stopping; given Republican paranoia, which sees Obama and Democrats as evil and un-American, I can see torture seeping into our justice system all too easily.

Amendment VIII to the Constitution explicitly states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” We fought a Revolution against the Crown not simply because of taxation without representation, but because the colonists remembered that English justice included truly horrifying torture. The excuses for torture then were exactly the same as Bush and Romney use today: religious war, existential threat, treachery, an evil foe without scruples.

None of these excuses hold water, and experienced interrogators from World War II as well as psychologists tell us that using torture does not produce reliable information, and only hardens the enemy….to say nothing about degrading our own cause. So much for the “shining city on the hill,” so much for the moral high ground, so much for civilization. If Romney should be elected, it is probable we will see a total return of Bush’s aggressive policies on torture.  


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