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the bush years

Who Defends ‘Torture’?

The emotional debate surrounding the use of torture has been reignited by last week's disclosure of Bush-era memos outlining the harsh interrogation practices utilized against high-profile terror detainees, and the legal opinions used to justify them. Such approved techniques involved slapping, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, cramped confinement, "walling" (in which detainees were slammed into a flexible wall), forced nudity, and placing a suspect in a small box with insects. President Obama believes that the tactics reflect America's loss of its "moral bearings," which is why he discontinued their use and released the memos. But a cadre of political commentators and former Bush administration officials refute that claim, insisting that the techniques should be permissible either because they don't actually constitute torture, or because they elicit valuable information — or both. We went through the commentary of the past few days to see who falls into this camp.

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort .... I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country." —Dick Cheney, speaking with Fox News' Sean Hannity

"The techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA .... As already disclosed by Director Hayden, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations." —Former attorney general Michael Mukasey and former CIA director Michael Hayden, in The Wall Street Journal

"It is, yes, good that the U.S.A. is not doing this anymore, but let's not get too sanctimonious about how awful it was that we indulged in these techniques after watching nearly 3,000 innocent Americans endure god-awful deaths at the hands of religious fanatics who would happily have detonated a nuclear bomb if they had gotten their mitts on one. And let us move on. There is pressing business. (Are you listening, ACLU? Hel-lo?)" —Chris Buckley, on the Daily Beast

"If somebody can go through water-boarding for 183 times, 6 times a day .... it means you’re not afraid of it, it means it’s not torture. If you’ve found a way to withstand it, it can’t possibly be torture." —Rush Limbaugh

"I don't see it as a dark chapter in our history at all. You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning." —Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume

"I think it's really pathetic for an American president to do that, and to disavow, in effect, the good faith efforts of a previous administration to protect us in ways that I think were entirely appropriate." —Bill Kristol, on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume

"I’ve been in hotels with more bugs than these guys faced, and they’re tortured?" —Mike Huckabee, on Fox & Friends

"Ultimately though, apparently, according to the evidence, this stuff worked. And some of these guys spilled some beans that saved some lives. Next time we’re in the same predicament, what’s going to happen?" —Steve Doocy, host of Fox & Friends

"Khalid Sheik Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, 'I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.' That makes me feel better." —Brian Kilmeade, host of Fox & Friends

"The idea that torture doesn't work — that's been put out from John McCain on down — You know, for the longest time McCain said torture doesn't work then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by North Vietnamese. So what are we to think here?" —Rush Limbaugh

"If you go beyond posing questions in an even voice, you’re torturing, according to the Times .... Most Americans understand, when life and death is there, you’ve got to do something more than the Army Field Manual." —Bill O’Reilly

"By reading this people will be reassured and they’ll see the lunacy of the people on the left who say it’s torture. You know, you can only the use the back of your hand you have t splay your fingers when you slap them in the gut. On the face, you have to sue your fingers splayed, and you have to do it between here and here, and close to here." —Karl Rove, on The O’Reilly Factor

"Far from 'green lighting' torture — or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees — the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation." —David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, Justice Department officials under George H.W. Bush, in The Wall Street Journal

"This is a laughable proposition actually, what is now considered torture. But if not letting terrorists sleep, and throwing cold water on them, and putting a caterpillar in a room with a terrorist is now considered torture, then I’m afraid that we as a country do not have what it takes to protect our people." —Joe Scarborough , on Morning Joe

"Does the sadism of Dick Cheney know no bounds! I think we know the answer to that. As these memos are pored over in the hours and days ahead, we must be prepared to hear details about Operation Harmless Squishy Thing that may rock the very moral foundations of our country." —Abe Greenwald, Commentary

"I just slapped myself. I'm torturing myself right now. That's torture according to these people." —Rush Limbaugh

"In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists 'did not make us safer.' This is patently false .... [The Obama administration knows] that if the public could see the details of the techniques side by side with evidence that the program saved American lives, the vast majority would support continuing it." —Marc Thiessen, former Bush speechwriter, in the Washington Post

"Al Qaeda kidnaps Americans, tortures them, then decapitates them on TV. We deprive captives of sleep, push them into walls and put harmless caterpillars that we say are poisonous in their cells. Then we're the ones who are condemned as the worst human-rights violators on the planet." —New York Post editorial

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