A New Phase In The Torture Debate?

As the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the war crimes of the last administration nears publication (if the CIA doesn’t censor it to shreds), you can begin to hear the stirrings of some kind of reckoning with the past. As the years have gone by, the incontestable fact that the Bush administration tore up the Geneva Conventions, brazenly broke domestic and international law, and unleashed a wave of abuse and torture and mistreatment of prisoners, has been harder and harder to deny. Even the protestations of a man like Jose Rodriguez – “It worked!” – merely underline the point. The law against torture is absolute. There is never any defense of it because of perceived utility. Dick Cheney keeps boasting and bragging of the torture program he invented for the first time in American history, publicly admitting a war crime for which there is no statute of limitations in domestic and international law.

But the one place where the debate has not really broken out is in the political party that embraced those war crimes – the GOP. Yes, John McCain took on the torture crowd in 2008 and won the nomination. But his successor, Mitt Romney, pledged to “double Gitmo” and bring torture back. Very few Republican writers want to confront the topic; Charles Krauthammer actually favors the setting up of a specific torture unit, without pondering whether its shirts should be brown. Torture enthusiasts, like Marc Thiessen, are given perches at the Washington Post, while war criminals like Cheney and Hayden are given endless platforms on the Sunday morning talk shows.

But if Rand Paul runs for president, a debate will surely have to break out. David Corn – is David trying to kill off Paul’s candidacy or trumpet it? – digs not so deep again to discover unequivocal hostility to the torture of the Bush-Cheney years in some interviews Paul did in 2009. Encouragingly, Paul won’t have any truck with the newspeak echoed by the craven New York Times. Interviewed by Friend Of The Dish Scott Horton, Paul was clear when answering the question “What’s your position on torture and war crimes prosecutions for the many torturers in the previous administration?”:

I am opposed to torture, and I think our country should have a higher ideal than that …Torture is always wrong and shouldn’t be performed.

On a subsequent radio show, Paul stated:

If Republicans want Dick Cheney to be sort of the representative of our party, still defending torture, which is not something America stands for, it’s just another way to shrink the Republican Party.

The good thing about this stance – and the real promise of a Rand Paul candidacy – is that it will force an honest debate in the GOP. No more denialist bullshit about “EIT”s; no more pussy-footing around the fact that of course what was done was torture; and a demand for clarity about whether a future Republican president would seek to finally consign the Geneva Conventions in the trash-heap of history or whether he or she will return to the traditions of George Washington and the civilized world. We may get the wrong answer from the GOP nominee. But at least we will know where we are. And whether Americans care any more about an embrace of the barbarism so often exhibited by our enemies.