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Torture becoming a key campaign issue for GOP candidates

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham, Ala., Nov. 21, 2015. (Photo by Marvin Gentry/Reuters)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham, Ala., Nov. 21, 2015.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump was asked whether he'd bring back Bush/Cheney-era torture policies like waterboarding. “I would bring it back, yes,” the Republican said. “I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head.”
At an event in Ohio yesterday, Trump went a little further, telling his audience, "Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would -- in a heartbeat." But the GOP frontrunner wasn't done there. The Washington Post reported:

"And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work." Trump said such techniques are needed to confront terrorists who "chop off our young people's heads" and "build these iron cages, and they'll put 20 people in them and they drop them in the ocean for 15 minutes and pull them up 15 minutes later." "It works," Trump said over and over again. "Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway, for what they're doing."

That last part is obviously the most disgusting. The overwhelming evidence tells us that torturing detainees through waterboarding does not, in fact, "work" in producing valuable intelligence. Simply asserting the opposite, over and over again, doesn't change reality.
But note that Trump isn't overly concerned about the efficacy of illegal intelligence gathering. The Republican frontrunner conceded that even if torture tactics don't "work," he's inclined to commit war crimes anyway because "they deserve it."
And while it's easy to marvel at the sadistic nature of Trump's boasts, there's a larger context to this: he's not the only Republican presidential candidate putting torture on the table as a 2016 campaign issue.
In June, for example, Jeb Bush was asked whether he'd preserve President Obama's executive order prohibiting torture. “I’m not ruling anything in or out," Bush replied. Echoing his brother, Bush added that, at least in his mind, there’s "a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture."
Two weeks earlier, Ben Carson was asked about his own approach to interrogations. “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," he responded.
In June, when the Senate voted on an anti-torture policy, Marco Rubio didn't show up for work -- try not to be surprised -- but he issued a statement denouncing efforts to ban torture, arguing that he didn’t want to deny “future commanders in chief and intelligence officials important tools for protecting the American people and the U.S. homeland.”
Torture wasn't much of a campaign issue in 2012. Don't be surprised if it's a much higher-profile issue in 2016.