Monday, November 05, 2012

Obama vs. Romney on torture

What's at stake in the 2012 presidential election? As a New York Times article pointed out in September, one result of the outcome will be "to decide future interrogation methods in terrorism cases". Here's what that means:
Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has said much about torture as part of terrorism investigations during the 2012 general campaign. But the future of American government practices when interrogating high-level terrorism suspects appears likely to turn on the outcome of the election.

In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

“We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December. [....]
So what did Romney actually say? On Saturday Mark Kleiman provided a timely update and reminder (Romney on waterboarding):
Just in case there was any doubt, here’s the audio.

I can’t make out every word, but I could make out the gist:
Q: Waterboarding: do you think it’s torture?

Romney: I don’t. … We will have a policy of doing what we think is in our best interest. We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques that go beyond what’s in the military handbook right now.
Of course waterboarding – repeated partial drowning – is torture. It’s war crime under international law; as John McCain once said, we hanged a couple of Japanese admirals for it. It’s also a felony under the laws of the United States.

Barack Obama banned it. And W. Mitt Romney wants to use it.

Any questions?
—Jeff Weintraub

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