Back in May, I asked this about Mitt Romney: “As president, would he revoke the executive order that Obama signed on his first day in office, restricting interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual?”
The Romney camp wouldn’t answer at the time, but it turns out Romney and his advisers have been thinking about that question, too. Charlie Savage has obtained an internal memo, written by a committee of high level Romney lawyers, many of them former Bushies, suggesting he do just that:
Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.
As Adam Serwer notes, the memo concedes it can’t be determined whether torture is effective, and makes a weak case for torture generally, yet urges that Romney adopt this course, anyway.
But there’s another angle to all this: The Romney campaign is still refusing to say whether he would or wouldn’t rescind the executive order. Romney aides declined to comment to Savage.
This seems like a big deal. The executive order banning torture was the very first one signed by Obama, to improve America’s image abroad, explicitly repudiating a major policy of his GOP predecessor. The Romney camp is internally debating whether to rescind that order, which would represent a return to those policies. There are only five weeks until the election, and we still don’t know what Romney will do on an issue with far reaching moral and international implications.
Yes, Romney has said he favors going beyond the techniques outlined in the field manual. But we still need an answer to the specific question of whether he would rescind the executive order itself. That’s because, even if Romney says he would revive the techniques, if he doesn’t rescind the order it’s not really clear he could do that, for a host of reasons. For instance, he might say he’d use the techniques in certain situations — but the relevant agencies might be reluctant to defy the executive order or might not want to act if it didn’t feel there was a persuasive legal rationale for doing so.
The current answer to the basic question — would you formally do away with the ban on the use of the techniques not authorized in the field manual, or not? — remains vague. If Romney says he’d rescind the order, we’d know for sure: He would actively revive techniques that were a hallmark of the Bush approach, and were directly repudiated by Obama. Would Romney formally bring back torture, or wouldn’t he?
Of course, there is unlikely to be any real pressure on Romney to answer this question, partly because the Obama campaign likely won’t want to raise it as an issue. Obama has polled well on terrorism, but a couple recent polls have shown him losing some ground on the issue and on his handling of Libya, which Romney has portrayed as weak and hapless. Given the focus on foreign policy, you’d think torture should be debated in this election. But like Steve Benen, I’m skeptical it will be.