Would Romney bring back torture?
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