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GOP candidates quietly put torture back on the table

On his first day in office, President Obama banned torture. How many of his would-be Republican successors intend to roll back the clock?
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo by Jim Young / Reuters)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, United States, August 13, 2015. 
In the last presidential election, the issue of Bush/Cheney-era torture policies rarely come up. On his first day in office, President Obama issued an executive order limiting interrogators to tactics approved in the Army Field Manual, and by 2012, few Republicans were publicly challenging the policy.
Behind the scenes, Mitt Romney's advisers reportedly wrote a memo, privately recommending that he "rescind and replace" the no-torture policy, permitting secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees," but the GOP nominee made no real effort to make this part of his national platform.
In the 2016 race, will Republicans try to roll back the clock? Maybe.

Enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which were used by the C.I.A. against Qaeda suspects after Sept. 11 attacks, were prohibited in one of President Obama's first executive orders in 2009. Earlier on Thursday, at a forum on national security in Davenport, Iowa, [Jeb Bush] had declined to commit to preserving that order.

Pressed by reporters on whether he would prohibit waterboarding, Jeb Bush replied, "I'm not ruling anything in or out." In case voters needed a reminder that the Florida Republican has surrounded himself with his brother's team, the former governor added, "There's a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. America doesn't torture."
This is, of course, almost word-for-word George W. Bush's line. The United States doesn't torture, just so long as a Republican White House is allowed to define "torture" in a way it finds legally and ideologically satisfying.
Jeb's not alone, of course. On the topic of interrogation techniques, Ben Carson said in the recent Fox News debate, "You know, what we do in order to get the information that we need is our business, and I wouldn't necessarily be broadcasting what we're going to do."
Marco Rubio and Rick Perry have been even more direct in their endorsements of abusive techniques.
When President Obama took office, he and his team decided not to pursue charges against Bush administration officials who authorized, encouraged, and participated in torture. At the time, the argument was that the country wanted to move forward.
In hindsight, though, had there been some prosecutions, maybe Republicans hoping to succeed Obama would be less inclined to re-embrace the torture policies the nation has tried to leave behind us.