Seven of the remaining GOP candidates participated in a debate hosted by ABC News in Manchester, New Hampshire, Saturday, and when asked about waterboarding and other methods of torture used by the CIA, several candidates voiced their support.
The topic came up when moderator David Muir noted a comment Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made in Dec. 2014, when discussing the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the forms of torture used by the CIA on suspected terrorists after 9/11.
Muir noted that at the time, Cruz said, “Torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture,” and then asked if Cruz would classify waterboarding as torture.
Cruz said that “under the definition of torture,” waterboarding would be classified as “enhanced interrogation,” due to the fact that it is not “excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and system.”
“Well, under the definition of torture, no, it’s not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.”
When asked if he would bring back waterboarding as president, Cruz said he would not bring it back “in any sort of widespread use,” but that if it were necessary to “prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack,” he would “use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”
“I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed, I joined with Senator McCain in legislation that would prohibit line officers from employing it because I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels. But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander in chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe. And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”
Muir then turned to business mogul Donald Trump, who voiced his support for bringing back waterboarding in Nov. 2015, when he said, “I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they do to us.”
Trump shared a similar sentiment at the debate, and said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” because in the Middle East, “we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people.”
“We have things that we have never seen before – as a group, we have never seen before, what’s happening right now. The medieval times – I mean, we studied medieval times – not since medieval times have people seen what’s going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
While former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he wouldn’t bring waterboarding back, he also said he believes the United States needs to expand its “intelligence capabilities,” and he said he believes closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay is a “complete disaster.”
“Congress has changed the laws, and I think where we stand is the appropriate place. But what we need to do is to make sure that we expand our intelligence capabilities. The idea that we’re going to solve this fight with predator drones, killing people somehow is more acceptable than capturing them, securing the information. This is why closing Guantanamo is a complete disaster.”
When asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he that when people “talk about interrogating terrorists” they acts as if “this is some sort of law enforcement function,” when instead it is “anti-terrorism.”
“When people talk about interrogating terrorists, they’re acting like this is some sort of law enforcement function. Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial, and convict them. Anti-terrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack so the same tactics do not apply.”
Rubio also said he believes they should not be discussing “in a wide spread way the exact tactics that we’re going to use,” because that could allow “terrorist to know to practice how to evade us,” and he went on to criticize the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
“Here’s the bigger problem with all this, we’re not interrogating anybody right now. Guantanamo’s being emptied by this president. We should be putting people into Guantanamo, not emptying it out, and we shouldn’t be releasing these killers who are rejoining the battlefield against the United States.”