The return of torture as a campaign issue

Updated
 
President Obama's executive order banned torture. Would a President Romney reverse it?
President Obama's executive order banned torture. Would a President Romney reverse it?
Associated Press

Back in April, Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats completed a three-year investigation into the efficacy of Bush/Cheney-era torture policies, and confirmed what was already widely known: torture did not produce valuable intelligence. Though the report was issued during the race for the Republican nomination, the Romney campaign had very little to say on the subject.

In fact, though torture policies came up quite a bit in the 2008 race, Mitt Romney has been reticent, even by his standards, on the issue in 2012. In May, Greg Sargent asked a good question: “As president, would [Mitt Romney] revoke the executive order that Obama signed on his first day in office, restricting interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual?”

The question, alas, slowly faded, and Romney hasn’t been pressed on the subject, even after he brought on former CIA operative Cofer Black, a deeply controversial figure from the Bush era, as a member of the campaign team. Charlie Savage’s New York Times report may bring the issue back the forefront.

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.

It’s worth emphasizing that the policy memo was drafted by Romney’s advisers a year ago, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it reflects Team Romney’s judgment, and offers a clear guide to how the Republican would govern if elected – they believe Obama’s ban on torture is wrong and should be reversed.

Adam Serwer added that the Romney advisers’ memo “contains a number of factual errors and misleading statements,” and presents an option of two competing courses: end Obama’s torture ban immediately, or go through the motions of a perfunctory “review” process – to appear “open-minded and empirically driven” – and then end Obama’s torture ban.

I’m not optimistic, but this should be a part of the national 2012 debate.

Torture and Mitt Romney

The return of torture as a campaign issue

Updated