In my post this morning about E.J. Dionne’s latest attack on Republicans, I failed to note the cheap shot Dionne took when he said, “It’s come to this: the only Republican litmus test seems to be support for torture — excuse me ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.'” Dionne’s argument is wrong on its fact. One serious Republican candidate dissented from the view that such techniques should be employed in extreme circumstances; one serious candidate dissented from the pro-life position. How, then, is it honest for Dionne to characterize “torture” as a litmus and abortion as an open issue.
Dionne’s snide reference to “enhanced interrogation techniques” is also problematic. He wants to suggest, as clueless Ron Paul did, that the term has no purpose other than to make torture sound antiseptic. But in fact, the term is used in an attempt (generally futile) to point out that the techniques we use in a pinch are not things that people normally think of as torture (e.g., pulling out finger nails or other measures that cause intense pain).
Waterboarding is perhaps the best example. It works not by producing physical pain or damage, but rather by creating great momentary fear. Though some claim it causes permanent psychological damage, the CIA has used it on its own personnel. Calling this technique torture may be consistent with some legalistic construct, but it fails to provide an honest picture of the practice at issue.
My hope is that someone will ask the Democratic contenders the type of question posed by Brit Hume that led to the discussion of “torture” — what techniques should be used to obtain information from a detainee we know has key information about an imminent attack on America? On the matter of waterboarding, I’d be surprised if either Clinton or Obama fails what Dionne calls the Republican litmus test. Neither can afford to become the candidate unwilling to use on known terorists an interrogation technique we’ve employed on our own people in a situation where we desperately need information to save lives. And as president, neither would be willing to risk having to explain to the next 9/11 commission why he or she failed to use this proven technique on a detainee we knew had information that could have prevented the attack.
Not a bad litmus test, come to think of it.
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