Carly Fiorina joins the GOP torture caucus: Surging contender defends waterboarding and dances around the facts (again)

Carly Fiorina endorses the Bush-era torture program -- and gets lots of stuff wrong in the process

Published September 28, 2015 5:34PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Chris Keane)
(Reuters/Chris Keane)

There have been some significant changes to the pro-torture bloc of the 2016 Republican presidential field since we last checked in. Rick Perry, who argued that it would be “inhumane” to not torture detainees if “we know for a fact that there are individuals that are going to kill maybe millions of Americans,” folded up operations earlier his month. But the void left by Perry’s exit has been more than filled by Carly Fiorina, who is surging in the polls thanks to her proprietary “lie about everything all the time” campaign strategy, and who firmly believes in the wisdom and efficacy of torturing terrorism detainees.

Interviewed by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, Fiorina made the now-familiar case that torture – specifically, the practice of waterboarding – was justified because it provided intelligence that kept Americans safe:

“I believe that all of the evidence is very clear — that waterboarding was used in a very small handful of cases [and] was supervised by medical personnel in every one of those cases,” Fiorina told Yahoo News. “And I also believe that waterboarding was used when there was no other way to get information that was necessary.”

A Senate report last year portrayed waterboarding as “near drownings” that were tantamount to torture and concluded that the agency’s often brutal interrogations produced little actionable intelligence. But Fiorina rejected those conclusions, calling the report “disingenuous” and “a shame” that “undermined the morale of a whole lot of people who dedicated their lives to keeping the country safe.”

It’s interesting to see Fiorina narrowly define the torture question to one specific torture technique: waterboarding. And, in keeping with her persistent allergy to saying things that are true, much of what she said about it is wrong. The CIA insists that it only waterboarded three detainees, but Senate investigators found photographs of “a waterboard with buckets of water around it at a detention site where the CIA has claimed it never subjected a detainee to the waterboard” – something the CIA was unable to explain. As for the notion that waterboarding was used only when absolutely necessary, that was contradicted by one of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogators, who said they were getting actionable intelligence from the Al Qaeda operative right up to the point that they started waterboarding him.

The larger problem with Fiorina focusing on waterboarding is that it excludes all the other horrific techniques – some authorized, some not – employed against terrorism detainees: chaining them in stress positions, holding guns to their heads and threatening them with power drills, and “rectal feeding.” At least one detainee died in custody after being chained to the floor in a frigid room overnight. By its own count, the CIA interrogation program wrongly detained over two dozen people, and the program’s recordkeeping was so slipshod that the precise number of people detained and interrogated isn’t known.

This is the program that Carly Fiorina is defending – a brutal, mismanaged, chaotic system of interrogation that violated American principles and, according to critics and official investigations, didn’t produce anything of value that couldn’t have been obtained through other means. And her defense of Bush-era torture tactics is well within the mainstream of Republican national security thinking.

For those of you keeping score at home, the 2016 Republican candidates who have either defended torture and/or won’t rule out its future use include: Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina. The 2016 GOP candidates who have criticized torture and ruled it out as immoral and unjustified are fewer in number and (according to the current polling) less formidable: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham. It seems highly likely that the Republican nominee for president will at least be open to the idea of torturing people in the name of national security.

By Simon Maloy

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