During tonight’s CNN/YouTube debate, a YouTube questioner asked the candidates why they refuse to condemn waterboarding as torture. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said that before making such a determination, he would need to get “counsel on a matter of this nature” from “a lot” of people. One of the people with whom Romney said he would specifically like to speak is Blackwater vice chairman Cofer Black:
I am not. I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some 35 years.
Black is Romney’s Senior Adviser for counterterrorism and national security issues. He has described Black as a man with a “long and impressive career dedicated to making America safer and more secure in the world,” despite the fact that Blackwater has allegedly been involved in at least seven violent episodes this year that have left almost 30 Iraqi civilians dead.
Romney is also relying on a man for torture advice who in 2001, infamously ordered a CIA agent to “Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice,” and once promised put the “heads” of terrorists in Afghanistan “on sticks”:
“We’re going to kill them,” CIA counterterrorism official Cofer Black said, according to the book, which details the Bush administration’s build-up to the Iraq war. “We’re going to put their heads on sticks. When we’re through with them they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.”
Romney has repeatedly dodged answering questions during debates, instead saying he needs to consult with his advisers before taking a stand. During an October CNBC debate, Romney said that before figuring out if he’d need congressional approval to invade Iran, he’d have to ask his lawyers: “You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do.”
JONES: Recently, Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation.
My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?
COOPER: Governor Romney?
ROMNEY: Well, he certainly is an expert and I certainly would want to get his counsel on a matter of this nature, but I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people.
I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form.
COOPER: Is waterboarding torture?
ROMNEY: And as I just said, as a presidential candidate, I don’t think it’s wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use.
And that is something which I would want to receive the counsel not only of Senator McCain, but of a lot of other people.
And there are people who, for many, many years get the information we need to make sure that we protect our country.
ROMNEY: And, by the way, I want to make sure these folks are kept at Guantanamo. I don’t want the people that are carrying out attacks on this country to be brought into our jail system and be given legal representation in this country. I want to make sure that what happened…
… to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed happens to other people who are terrorists. He was captured. He was the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 tragedy. And he turned to his captors and he said, I’ll see you in New York with my lawyers. I presume ACLU lawyers.
Well, that’s not what happened. He went to Guantanamo and he met G.I.s and CIA interrogators. And that’s just exactly how it ought to be.
COOPER: Senator McCain?
(UNKNOWN): There were reports Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded.
MCCAIN: Well, Governor, I’m astonished that you haven’t found out what waterboarding is.
ROMNEY: I know what waterboarding is, Senator.
MCCAIN: Then I am astonished that you would think such a — such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our — who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that’s not torture. It’s in violation of the Geneva Convention. It’s in violation of existing law…
And, Governor, let me tell you, if we’re going to get the high ground in this world and we’re going to be the America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years. We’re not going to torture people.
MCCAIN: We’re not going to do what Pol Pot did. We’re not going to do what’s being done to Burmese monks as we speak. I suggest that you talk to retired military officers and active duty military officers like Colin Powell and others, and how in the world anybody could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted by Americans on people who are held in our custody is absolutely beyond me.
COOPER: Governor Romney, 30 seconds to respond.
ROMNEY: Senator McCain, I appreciate your strong response, and you have the credentials upon which to make that response. I did not say and I do not say that I’m in favor of torture.
ROMNEY: I am not. I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some 35 years.
I get that advice by talking to former generals in our military…