Bachmann: waterboarding uncomfortable but effective | Bleader

Bachmann: waterboarding uncomfortable but effective

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An animatronic demonstration of waterboarding in Coney Island, 2008
  • Salim Virji
  • An animatronic demonstration of waterboarding in Coney Island, 2008
"No one dies from the use of waterboarding,” Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann said Monday on Fox News. “Is it uncomfortable? Yes, it's uncomfortable. But our worry should not be about the comfort level of a terrorist."

I haven’t been waterboarded, but I have had the experience of nearly drowning. “Uncomfortable” isn’t the word I’d use to describe it—“terrifying” comes to mind. But maybe it’s less traumatic when you’re strapped to a gurney by captors, a cloth is over your face, and water is poured onto the cloth, making it difficult or impossible to breathe.

I wonder how Bachmann knows that waterboarding is merely “uncomfortable.” I have a feeling it’s not from experience. Maybe she should give it a whirl, and then offer her informed opinion.

The waterboarding issue arose Saturday in the latest Republican debate, whose subject was foreign policy and national security. The event, which featured the leading eight candidates, was hosted by CBS News and the Washington magazine National Journal in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The 90-minute debate was in its 15th minute before Bachmann was finally asked a question. The waiting must have been uncomfortable for her. The moderators were treating her like a nonentity, like someone polling at only 3.7 percent—which she is, but still.

At least Bachmann knew she was going to be neglected. She’d learned this inadvertently two days before the debate, through one of those classic “reply-all” mistakes. John Dickerson, political director of CBS News, had noted in an e-mail to colleagues that Bachmann was “not going to get many questions” because she was “nearly off the [polling] charts.” He didn’t mean off the top of them; Bachmann peaked at 13.5 percent in July, and it’s been downhill for her ever since. Her communications director had been in Dickerson’s earlier e-mail stream, and so the “reply-all” message went to Bachmann’s camp too.

The question on waterboarding came via e-mail in the “interactive” last half hour of the debate. A veteran from Oregon who’d served on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam said in the e-mail that he believed torture was wrong “in all cases,” and he wanted the candidates’ views. Major Garrett, a National Journal correspondent and one of the two moderators, put the question to Herman Cain. “I do not agree with torture, period,” Cain said adamantly. But then he added, “However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.” How about waterboarding? Garrett asked. (President Obama banned the practice in 2009.) Cain said waterboarding was simply an “enhanced interrogation technique,” not torture—and if elected he’d authorize its use again.

Garrett then posed the question to Bachmann, who seconded Cain. “I think it was very effective,” she said. “It gained information for our country.” By prohibiting such techniques, Obama was “allowing the ACLU to run the CIA,” she said. “It is as though we have decided we want to lose in the War on Terror under President Obama.”

There were at least two dissidents on the panel. Texas congressman Ron Paul said torture was “illegal under international law and under our law,” “immoral,” and “impractical. There's no evidence that you really get reliable evidence.” Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman noted that he’d served as an ambassador three times, living overseas. “Waterboarding is torture,” he said. “We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project...when we torture.”

In an e-mail to supporters on Sunday, the Bachmann campaign revealed the CBS News “reply-all” e-mail, and said it was “concrete evidence confirming what every conservative already knows—the liberal mainstream media elites are manipulating the Republican debates by purposely suppressing our conservative message.”

What CBS and the National Journal really were doing was focusing on the leaders—Mitt Romney, Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry—in a crowded field. The debate sponsors also gave less attention to candidates more moderate than Bachmann, such as Paul and Hunstman. Bachmann would have preferred a more equal distribution of time, even if that is a socialistic approach.

On Monday Republican senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, weighed in on waterboarding via Twitter: "Very disappointed by statements at SC GOP debate supporting waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture."

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