Jeb Bush isn’t prepared to rule out the restoration of torture policies used by his brother’s administration. Ben Carson has adopted a similar line. Marco Rubio has also offered some tacit approval of torture policies.
With each passing week, the number of Republican presidential candidates voicing support for torture grows. Yesterday on MSNBC, for example, Chris Christie was asked if he considers waterboarding to be torture. The governor replied:
“I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so. And I will tell you that the intelligence officers who conducted that activity were told by the Justice Department that what they were doing was lawful and constitutional. And then you have Barack Obama come in, and Hillary Clinton, and second-guess these people, demean them, and kill their morale.”
Even for Christie, this is genuinely bizarre. In his mind, the White House hurt intelligence agencies’ feelings by banning torture?
What’s more, as Salon’s Simon Maloy explained, “Putting any sort of faith in the torture memos from the Bush DOJ is not a good look for a would-be commander-in-chief, given that those memos are broadly viewed as a legal atrocity, a ‘perversion of law and logic’ that sought only to apply the thinnest veneer of legality to the Bush administration’s decision to violate the Geneva Conventions…. Christie says he wants to do ‘whatever we need to do to get actionable intelligence that’s within the Constitution,’ but that’s a meaningless statement if you subscribe to the Bush administration’s notion that the Constitution can be unilaterally reinterpreted to justify whatever action you think is necessary.”
Donald Trump, meanwhile, argued last week that he would support torturing detainees – even “if it doesn’t work” in producing valuable intelligence – simply because he thinks it’s a worthwhile thing to do. This morning the GOP frontrunner added on Fox News, “[T]he other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”
In an unexpected twist, the only other competitive Republican presidential candidate appears to be going in a different direction.
[W]hile promising to destroy the Islamic State, beat back aggression from Russia, China and Iran, and ensure extremists don’t infiltrate the U.S. homeland, [Sen. Ted] Cruz also places notable limits on his approach to national security. […]“We can defend our nation and be strong and uphold our values,” he says. “There is a reason the bad guys engage in torture. ISIS engages in torture. Iran engages in torture. America does not need to torture to protect ourselves.”
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent raises a good point: we don’t know exactly what Cruz means by “torture.” Some on the right say they oppose torture but support waterboarding, as if there were some kind of meaningful distinction between the two. There isn’t.
That said, Cruz’s line, at face value, is the clearest of any major GOP candidate in rejecting torture at least in principle.
As for the bigger picture, what we discussed last week is becoming increasingly hard to ignore: torture may not have been much of a campaign issue in 2012, but as heartbreaking as this may be, it’s on track to be a much higher-profile issue in 2016.