Torture is back in the news again. The battle between the campaigns over the one-year anniversary of Bin Laden’s death has revived the debate over whether torture led to his killing, and Senate Dems are prepared to release an investigation asserting that it didn’t.
So the Romney campaign should be asked: 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?
Here’s why this is an important question.
Yes, it’s true that Romney has expressed support for enhanced interrogation techniques, and doesn’t believe waterboarding is torture, so it would seem that Romney is implicitly saying he would overturn the executive order. But an actual answer from Romney on whether he would revoke it would be something else entirely.
This question goes to the heart of how serious Romney is about reviving enhanced interrogation techniques, and whether he’d be able to.
If Romney really means to revive these techniques as an instrument of U.S. policy, an important first step — symbolically and substantively — would be to revoke that executive order. Theoretically, if there is a terror attack or threat that prompts Romney to greenlight the revival of these techniques, he could do so without first formally revoking the order. But any agency ordered to use these techniques might feel they need a legal rationale for doing so — something that, at a minimum, would require the order to be revoked or at least amended.
In short, pledging to overturn the executive order is a clear way for Romney to signal he’s serious about restoring enhanced interrogation techniques. If he doesn’t pledge to overturn it, his attacks on Obama as weak — in part because he ended torture — will sound hollow, and he will be leaving a ban on techniques he says are necessary in place.
Of course, Romney very well may say that he would overturn the executive order. After all, as Ari Berman reports today, Romney’s choice of advisers signals he’d return to the Bush approach to foreign policy, and many of them are probably torture proponents.
But if Romney does pledge to do this, it would constitute a clear, and newsworthy, statement of intent: President Romney would actively revive the use of techniques that were a hallmark of the Bush approach, and were directly repudiated by Obama — and Romney would be implicitly endorsing Bush’s legal rationale for using them.
The result would be a debate where there’s an extremely clear contrast between the two presidential candidates on national security, on what constitutes true strength and weakness in this area, and on what our governing values should be.
Obama — who got Bin Laden and has had success against Al Qaeda even after banning torture — seems to have broken the old Dem-versus-GOP template on these issues. Romney — who will insist enhanced interrogation led to Bin Laden, and must be revived — would be arguing from the old template, and arguing for a true Bush restoration. It’s a good argument to have.
I’ve asked the Romney campaign whether he’d overturn the executive order, and haven’t received an answer. I hope others will ask, too.
UPDATE: Post edited slightly for accuracy.