I'd like to follow up on a question I've raised yesterday and today over at the Post (see here and here) regarding the torture program. It's pretty simple: what do the program's defenders think we should do now? Or more particularly, since Barack Obama isn't going to change his policy toward torture in the last two years of his presidency, what should the next president do?
I've seen almost no one talk about the torture question as though it related in any way to the future. Even the most ardent torture advocates are talking only about the past. But if they're right that the program was perfectly legal and produced vital intelligence that could be obtained no other way, then one would assume they'd like to renew the waterboarding sessions as soon as they have the opportunity, i.e. as soon as there's a Republican president.
Which makes it particularly important to get the people who want to be that president on record now about whether they have any plans to do so. When I wrote this post yesterday, only Rand Paul and Ted Cruz had addressed the Intelligence Committee's report explicitly, and both had made their opposition to torture clear. In today's paper, the New York Times managed to get Martin O'Malley and Marco Rubio on record, but not any other candidates. O'Malley proposed that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate whether anyone should be criminally prosecuted for the torture, and here's what Rubio had to say:
One senator who did agree to talk, Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, criticized the public release of the Senate report but also decried torture as an interrogation technique. Asked specifically about the use of waterboarding and rectal feeding, which were both documented in the report, Mr. Rubio said he did not want to discuss "specific methods" but suggested that he did not support such practices, noting that they have been discontinued. "And I'm not advocating that we continue those practices."
That's nice, but as I noted yesterday, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Rubio signed on to a minority report that seemed to be saying almost exactly the opposite. Here's part of their dissent:
The CIA called the detention program a "crucial pillar of US counterterrorism efforts, aiding intelligence and law enforcement operations to capture additional terrorists, helping to thwart terrorist plots, and advancing our analysis of the al-Qa'ida target." We agree. We have no doubt that the CIA's detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening al-Qa'ida while the Program was in operation. When asked about the value of detainee information and whether he missed the intelligence from it, one senior CIA operator told members, "I miss it every day." We understand why.
That sure sounds like something written by people who would like to bring torture back.
It isn't too hard to imagine a scenario in which the torture question could become acute again. There are lots of terrorist groups in the world, and it's certainly possible that at some point in the future one of them could successfully mount a large attack here in the United States. Or there could be some kind of home-grown group that does. And it would be naïve to assume that no Democratic president would contemplate using torture again, because we won't know until it happens.
But for Republicans, you don't even have to put it in the context of another large terrorist attack. Many of them are saying not just that there are problems with the Intelligence Committee's report, and not just that it was a crazy time and folks did some crazy things and now we should move on. They're saying the program was perfectly legal, morally defensible, and tremendously effective. If that's true, why wouldn't you want to restart the program as soon as possible?
My guess is that if asked directly, the GOP presidential candidates would say, "That's all in the past." But at the very least, we ought to get them on record now making clear whether they would ever consider using torture again.