At yet another Republican debate, several candidates revitalized the “controversy” about whether waterboarding is torture. This view has been routinely criticized, even by some in the Republican Party, as morally reprehensible, and it exposes a moral divide amongst Republican candidates who sacrifice moral high ground in an attempt to appear strong on foreign policy issues.
The Republican candidates who have come out in favor of waterboarding are taking a “tough” stance on an issue that shows their disregard for American moral legitimacy. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, arguably the inevitable Republican nominee, stayed mute on the subject but showed moral cowardice in not denouncing a torture technique that directly counters the “human rights” he claims to champion. Romney has the moral obligation to denounce waterboarding as torture and send a signal that he will not tolerate human rights abuses.
While Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman were the only candidates directly asked about torture, they showed a great rift in the Republican stance on waterboarding and torture at large. Cain and Bachmann came out strongly in support of what they deemed to be an “enhanced interrogation technique,” while Paul and Huntsman flatly denounced the practice. This moral divide gives a sharp distinction between the candidates who still care about, as Huntsman put it, “our standing in the world,” and those who will compromise American values in the name of national security. Those who side with waterboarding are on the wrong side of a fight that our leaders must take to maintain a moral high ground that unequivocally denounces torture.
But what about Romney? As the most likely Republican candidate, he didn’t take a firm stance on the issue of waterboarding during the debate, but it is clear that his campaign takes the same view as Cain and Bachmann. The Romney campaign should take note that this stance counters the notion of human rights that it lays out in its plan for “An American Century.” His website even goes so far as to claim that he will work with the United Nations to achieve “substantive goals of democracy and human rights.” It is hard to picture what Romney’s conception of human rights entails when he tolerates a practice that the UN defines as torture.
Romney should take this opportunity to come out strongly against the practice of waterboarding and use it as an example of his dedication to American moral standards. As America continues to engage in conflicts abroad, Romney can stake a claim to a foreign policy position that recognizes the need for America to be a model in respecting the rule of law. Waterboarding and other forms of torture only serve to expose the hypocrisy of projected American values of human rights and democracy that supposedly underpin our society.
Romney is not shy about his desire to restore American power, but this cannot be done without an America that has established itself as a standard-bearer of the human rights that are necessary for the 21st century.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore