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Report Card: GOP Candidates on Waterboarding

on November 17, 2011

At the recent Republican debate, the presidential candidates were asked if waterboarding is torture. Their answers were shocking, in more ways than one. Even if Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman hadn’t blown the curve, everyone else would have failed the human rights test miserably. Their grades would not have earned them any gold stars:

  • Herman Cain:  F-
  • Mitt Romney:  F-
  • Michelle Bachmann:  F
  • Rick Perry: F
  • Ron Paul:  A+
  • Jon Huntsman:  A+

Herman Cain and Mitt Romney come in dead last because both candidates do not believe that waterboarding is torture - for the record, waterboarding is torture and it is illegal under domestic and international law. Someone who does not know or respect the law on this important issue does not deserve to be a leader in the free world.

Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry fair only slightly better because, while neither candidate was willing to take the position that waterboarding is not torture, both are willing to use it. Bachmann stated that it is “very effective” and Perry certainly implied as much with his impassioned defense of it: “For us not to have the ability to extract information to save our young people’s lives is a travesty. This is war. And I am for [using any tactics] … and I will be for it until I die.”

Sadly, Perry and Bachmann have not been doing their homework. Top military officers, such as General David Petraeus, who now runs the C.I.A., have stated that such forms of torture are useless for gathering reliable intelligence. In fact, these forms of torture have been called detrimental to the security of American forces as well as the nation’s reputation.

Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman deserve top honors for their willingness to speak out loud and clear, perhaps to the dismay of their own party. “Water boarding is torture,” said Ron Paul, “it’s illegal under international law, and our law. It’s also immoral.”  PHR gives Jon Huntsman extra credit for giving the best explanation:

"We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets, when we torture…We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries. And we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for them."

Following the debate, we heard commentary from other important quarters. Here are their grades:

  • President Obama:  A
  • John McCain:  A
  • Rep. Allen West (Fl): F-

President Obama, who banned waterboarding in 2009, said twice in the aftermath that waterboarding is torture and “contrary to American’s traditions” and “ideals.” McCain gets a good grade as well for tweeting his disappointment in the GOP candidates and stating that “waterboarding is torture.” It is not easy to do the right thing in the face of opposition.  Indeed, Obama knows a little too well the pressures of appearing tough on national security and were we to give him a grade on accountability for torture, for example, he would be no better than a below-average student.  Lastly, Representative Allen West gets a failing grade and should report to detention immediately. He reportedly stated that waterboarding is legal and useful, and “Furthermore, in the movie ‘G.I. Jane,’ Demi Moore was water boarded.” This last comment is more absurd than the first. Performing a dangerous and illegal practice on people is never justified, and certainly not on the basis of a Hollywood movie.

Waterboarding is torture and it is illegal and ineffective. And, it is un-American.


Places: United States