Back in 2009, when the public debate on torture ramped up after President Obama released the Bush-era memos authorizing torture techniques on terror suspects, a Fox News host asked Newt Gingrich if he thought waterboarding is torture. “I can’t tell you,” the former House Speaker said, “I honestly don’t know.”
Now that Gingrich has had some time to think about it (while being influenced by some of his fellow GOP presidential candidates), he seems to have made a decision. Today at a town hall event at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, an audience member asked Gingrich where he stood on waterboarding. “Waterboarding is, by every technical rule, not torture,” the former House Speaker said, to which the crowd applauded. Gingrich seemed to justify his position claiming that the technique is legal under international law:
GINGRICH: Waterboarding is by every technical rule not torture. [Applause] Waterboarding is actually something we’ve done with our own pilots in order to get them used to the idea to what interrogation is like. It’s not — I’m not saying it’s not bad, and it’s not difficult, it’s not frightening. I’m just saying that under the normal rules internationally it’s not torture.
I think the right balance is that a prisoner can only be waterboarded at the direction of the president in a circumstance which the information was of such great importance that we thought it was worth the risk of doing it and I do that frankly only out of concern for world opinion. But we do not want to be known as a country that capriciously mistreats human beings.
Not only is the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario Gingrich refers to a red herring, waterboarding actually is illegal under international law because it is considered a torture technique. Last year, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said waterboarding is “immoral and illegal,” and his predecessor agrees.
The U.S. military doesn’t have much use for waterboarding either, considering the Army Field Manual bans it. And Gingrich, or any other of the Republicans running for president who support waterboarding and other torture techniques, might have a hard time getting it to happen as the CIA said it is unlikely to go down that road again. “When you have years-long investigations into past practices, it’s unlikely that you want to spend a minute engaged in them,” one CIA official said recently.
“Very disappointed by statements at SC GOP debate supporting waterboarding,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted earlier this month. “Waterboarding is torture.”