Would Romney bring back torture?

October 15, 2012


GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about the United States’ “proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership” in his foreign policy speech last Monday.

Yet Romney’s foreign policy advisers have written a private memo  recommending that the U.S. resume “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to The New York Times. What these GOP advisers are saying is the U.S. should return to what former Vice President Dick Cheney called “the dark side” — using torture to interrogate suspected terrorists.

Cheney still defends his support of techniques such as  waterboarding, painful stress positions, extreme sleep deprivation, slamming detainees into a wall, sexual humiliation and mortal threats. So does his daughter, Liz Cheney — now a Romney adviser.

The Romney memo recommends that, if he wins, he should explicitly authorize use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which the Army Field Manual does not permit.

The Romney advisers’ memo doesn’t even present that strong a case for this policy.  “It is difficult to argue conclusively,” the memo states, “that enhanced interrogation techniques would have generated more information than the techniques in the Army Field Manual.”

It then relies on several false claims that these enhanced techniques did help. The memo claims, for example, that waterboarding the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, provided critical information that allowed the U.S. to foil a plot to crash a plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles – though the Bush administration said (to avoid repetition of claims) it thwarted that plan a year before KSM was captured. The memo also claims that waterboarding led terror suspect Abu Zubaydah to identify KSM as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — though FBI interrogator Ali Soufan said Zubaydah provided that information before he was waterboarded.

Romney has himself been less clear about what he’d do if elected president.  He did say in December that he supported having some secret “enhanced” interrogation techniques available for interrogators’ use. But he hasn’t mentioned the issue since.  Does his latest focus on American principles and values suggest he’d now reject his advisers’ advice?

Let’s hope so.  Peace through strength, the Ronald Reagan maxim that Romney publicly embraced on the same day that The New York Times published his advisers’ memo, is a laudable goal. A regression to torture would signify the opposite. Torture isn’t strong, it’s tyrannical. And as military leaders who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations have said unequivocally, detainee abuse incites more terrorism.

General Ray Odierno made this point in 2009. “The graphic revelations of detainee abuse,” Odierno said, “motivated some terrorists, including foreign fighters from Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, to join the jihad.” (((I added commas, assuming it was a spoken speech… if it was written without, do delete my extra commas)))

Former General David Petraeus similarly called the torture of detainees “potent recruiting material to attract new members to join the insurgency.”

Experienced interrogators say torture hurts U.S. intelligence efforts — leading to false information and ending any chance for the sort of cooperation that leads to valuable and potentially life-saving information. These experts regard it as counterproductive.

In his foreign policy speech, Romney quoted General George Marshall, who led the World War II allied victory and later initiated the Marshall Plan, while serving as secretary of state. (He was also a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, where Romney was speaking.) “The only way human beings can win a war,” Marshall said, “is to prevent it.”

The humane treatment of terrorism suspects, coupled with strong, principled, law-abiding counterterrorism measures, such as intelligence and law enforcement with the support of U.S. allies, is the crucial way to win the current war — and prevent new ones from recurring indefinitely.

Romney concluded his speech last Monday:

“The torch America carries is one of decency and hope. It is not America’s torch alone. But it is America’s duty – and honor – to hold it high enough that all the world can see its light.”

With these words, Romney appeared to say that he’d reject any campaign advice he receives to return the United States to the dark days of officially-sanctioned torture. But he does not say so explicitly.  The coming foreign policy debate is the time for Romney to make that clear.


PHOTO: Courtroom sketch by artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. military, shows alleged September 11 co-conspirators Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (C) and co-defendant Walid bin Attash (L) attending a pre-trial session at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in 2008.  REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool/Files



We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

i thought mitt was a christian. where did bush, cheney, rummy etc obtain the moral flaw that allows them to torture and inflict state terrorism while living among us as leaders and religious men? reminds me of dylan’s ” with god on our side “. what a conflicted nation we are. bush in hiding while he should be on trial with his cronies for there actions. somehow state terrorism seems just fine. where are you hiding god when bush and company inflict operation” shock and awe on a civilian population?

Posted by jphipps320 | Report as abusive

Excellent article — thank you.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Thanks, but it’s known that we are still doing “renditions,” which means we ferry people we seize anywhere in the world and have a third country torture them for us. Therefore, Obama’s comments that “we don’t torture” are more like technicalities; and it would seem to be safe to assume that renditions are happening far, far more often than they did pre-9/11. So, while “we” don’t torture, “we” do farm out torture.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

Would Romney kill with drones while attacking torture methods that give us informatin to kill OBL?

Posted by BlueOkie | Report as abusive

Bush is a Christian, Blair is a Christian (and a fervent one if we are to believe him). But the problems the world faces are from religious zealots like Romney. They are using religion to further their own selfish needs. Look at Tony Blair- who knew he would turn out that way? He’s damaged the world and what a shame… Romney would be worse.

Posted by Caspary | Report as abusive

If the suspect knew where the nuclear bomb was hidden and what time it would go off – would you as the leader authorize torture to try to find out? And what would the people say of the leader who did not torture out of priciple and a nuclear holocaust resulted?

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

How silly is this speculative article?

No one can say one way or the other except Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama, likewise, answers for himself. Do you believe Mr. Obama does not endorse torture in special circumstances?

Posted by tomwinans | Report as abusive


Yes, you would, but you have to respect the principle of no torture, because without it you as a leader would end up torturing people for lots of reasons. There’s a slippery slope there, in other words. In the real world we can see how torture has been used recently for lots of reasons.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

A speculative article, sure, but unfortunately plausible. In The War On Terror (TWOT) the repubs have a hard time differentiating themselves from what Obama is doing. The willingness to promote and defend torture is one of the few differences between the two parties’ policies on TWOT. That, along with evidence cited here that some of Romney’s advisers would like him to receive moral guidance from Dick Cheney, mean that the return of torture to official policy might not be far away.

Posted by northwords | Report as abusive

Some of the commentators appear not to have read the whole article! The concluding statements appear to answer the question asked in the title…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Thank you for this column. Torture rehabilitation centers, like the Center for Victims of Torture, are very familiar with the forms of abuse you describe. Sadly, they are quite common and often used by repressive regimes worldwide because they do not leave marks, making it more difficult to document abuse. It’s important to note that these abuses (sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, stress positions, mock execution) are commonly used in combination to increase the terror and harm. From a clinical, scientific and medical perspective, these abuses have harmful health consequences and rise to the level of torture and cruel treatment.

Posted by CVMpls | Report as abusive

This article is a shameless attempt to make news rather than report it.

Posted by NilsPils | Report as abusive

What kind of yellow journalism is this nonesense. There is no provenance for this memo. Only the claim of the author that it comes from a Romney advisor. How does the author come to this conclusion? Because Dick Cheney allegedly espoused similar positions in the memo and Liz Cheney is a Romney advisor. Therefore a Romney advisor penned the memo. What a complete and utter joke journalism in America has become. The fact that any self-respecting editor approved the printing of this garbage is appauling. Any high school journalism teacher would give a failing grade for this trash.

Posted by NickVA | Report as abusive

Thanks, Reuters, for showing your true colors. Your editor must have been asleep at the wheel to allow this garbage posing as journalism be published under your banner. You have lost whatever credibility you may have had with this undisguised Obama-worshipping piece of…propaganda. You should follow this up with photoshopped pictures of Romney eating babies.

Posted by BillORights | Report as abusive