The good news for Carly Fiorina’s Republican presidential campaign is that it’s largely where she and her supporters want it to be. Polls show her as a top-tier contender, and with that backing comes more attention, more fundraising, and more endorsements.
The bad news for Fiorina is that with top-tier status comes top-tier scrutiny – and for a candidate who’s never won an election or held public office, having the spotlight can bring trouble.
The GOP candidate’s stubborn insistence that fiction is fact has already caused her campaign some headaches. Yesterday, a new problem emerged when Fiorina sat down with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff.
Positioning herself as a steely advocate of aggressive counterterrorism programs, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina offered a vigorous defense of CIA waterboarding as a tactic that helped “keep our nation safe” in the aftermath of 9/11.“I believe that all of the evidence is very clear – that waterboarding was used in a very small handful of cases [and] was supervised by medical personnel in every one of those cases,” Fiorina told Yahoo News. “And I also believe that waterboarding was used when there was no other way to get information that was necessary.”
She added that she’s aware of the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, several years in the making, which found that waterboarding was as brutal as it was ineffective, but Fiorina dismissed the bipartisan findings as “disingenuous.”
In other words, as is the case in Fiorina’s other controversy, she’s aware of what the facts are, but she prefers her version of reality to everyone else’s.
Salon’s Simon Maloy had a good piece on this yesterday, arguing that Fiorina’s claims are “in keeping with her persistent allergy to saying things that are true.”
The CIA insists that it only waterboarded three detainees, but Senate investigators found photographs of “a waterboard with buckets of water around it at a detention site where the CIA has claimed it never subjected a detainee to the waterboard” – something the CIA was unable to explain. As for the notion that waterboarding was used only when absolutely necessary, that was contradicted by one of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogators, who said they were getting actionable intelligence from the Al Qaeda operative right up to the point that they started waterboarding him.The larger problem with Fiorina focusing on waterboarding is that it excludes all the other horrific techniques – some authorized, some not – employed against terrorism detainees: chaining them in stress positions, holding guns to their heads and threatening them with power drills, and “rectal feeding.” At least one detainee died in custody after being chained to the floor in a frigid room overnight. By its own count, the CIA interrogation program wrongly detained over two dozen people, and the program’s recordkeeping was so slipshod that the precise number of people detained and interrogated isn’t known.
So, when Fiorina says “all of the evidence is very clear,” that’s true – but what’s very clear is that all of the evidence points in the exact opposite direction of her own conclusions.
As for how this fits into the Republican candidate’s larger vision on matters of national security, Fiorina’s rhetoric on U.S. policy towards Iran has been bizarre at times, and the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus noted after the recent GOP debate that “most of what she said about defense matters was fact-free or misleading.”
When a White House hopeful is in 11th place and barely registers in the polls, he or she can get away with missteps like these with relative ease – no one much cares about their errors of fact and judgment. But Fiorina wants to be seen as a credible nominee for the presidency – a person who’s ready to serve as the Commander in Chief in January 2017.
And as things stand, bridging that confidence gap is proving to be quite challenging, indeed.