Torture took the spotlight at Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate, as the seven candidates clashed over how to define and use the tactic in America’s against the Islamic State.
Donald Trump, the Republican front runner and the poll-leading favorite to win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, set the tone of the discussion when he criticized efforts to end the use of torture by the American military and intelligence community.
“I’d bring back waterboarding,” Trump said. “And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
A December 2014 Senate report said the Central Intelligence Agency conducted brutal torture of prisoners, deceived the government and public about their actions, obstructed oversight, and effectively worked beyond the law for years after 9/11. The report is shocking in its detail.
“I’d bring back waterboarding. And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
“ISIS is medieval in their torture,” Trump said. “It’s a good idea. We should be medieval, too.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)—who worked in the George W. Bush administration, under which the aforementioned torture took place—said that although he believes civilized countries don’t engage in torture, waterboarding does not qualify as torture. Instead, he calls it “enhanced interrogation,” a term borrowed from Cruz’s Bush administration colleagues.
There is major disagreement on that front, including many from within the U.S. government and the United Nations who say that waterboarding is indeed torture. CIA staff doctors describe waterboarding as “near drowning.”
CIA records show waterboarding sessions “resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms” and “hysterical pleas,” according to the Senate report. During at least one waterboarding session described, the subject became totally unresponsive, “with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth. He remained unresponsive after the waterboard was rotated upwards. Upon medical intervention, he regained conciousness and expelled copious amounts of liquid.”
Cruz said he wouldn’t bring back waterboarding in any sort of widespread way, because “I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels.”
The Texas senator touted legislation he co-sponsored with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) “that would prohibit line officers from employing it.”
“But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander in chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe,” he said. “And so if it were necessary to prevent a city from, say, facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”
Screenshot via ABC News