Yesterday, former attorney general John Ashcroft spoke at St. John’s University on “Leadership in Challenging Times.” In his speech, Ashcroft aggressively defended the Bush administration’s policies on the Iraq war, wiretapping, and interrogation. At one point, he “joked” about waterboarding, comparing the torture to being interviewed by Jon Stewart:
Going to a high school dance, having to listen to loud music, to me that’s torture. I was on the Daily Show once. I was interviewed by Jon Stewart. That was torture.
Ashcroft appeared on The Daily Show on Oct. 18, 2006. Is he saying that he would rather have traded places with a detainee and been waterboarded that night? During a November 2007 speech at the University of Colorado, Ashcroft also claimed that he was willing to be waterboarded: “The things that I can survive, if it were necessary to do them to me, I would do.”
In addition to Ashcroft, conservatives have repeatedly tried to make light of waterboarding in order to downplay the severity of the tactic:
– GWEN IFILL: Do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?
SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It’s like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. [12/11/07]
— “At one moment, bursting into laughter, he [Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)] exuberantly explains why, after ‘a short period of waterboarding to find out what they did in their absence,’ he would take back some of the staffers who fled his campaign at its low point.” [2/25/08]
“I’m finding just out how long I can go sleep deprived. You know, running for office is sort of like being waterboarded, I think.” [Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 2/16/08]
“And I see, when the Democrats are talking about torture…they talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly. That’s silly.” [Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, 10/24/07]
“It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological.” [Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), 2/15/08]
Ironically, forcing detainees to listen to “loud music,” which Ashcroft cites, is a common enhanced interrogation tactic.