Two 'Rule of Law' Republicans Dissent on Torture and Assassinations

Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul distinguished themselves at Saturday's GOP debate by standing up for limits in the war on terrorism

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In Saturday's debate, the starkest divide among the GOP candidates concerned their willingness to adhere to the law while waging the War on Terrorism. Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul affirmed that they would do so. Every other candidate embraced unlawful positions that would've been unthinkable before 2001. The most important: the use of torture and presidential orders to assassinate American citizens.

TORTURE

Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich all favor "enhanced interrogation techniques," a euphemism for torture. Lest you doubt that waterboarding, the specific technique they've endorsed, is in fact torture, first note that it too is a euphemism. It refers to blindfolding someone, strapping them to a table, elevating their head, covering their mouth, forcing water through their nose into their sinuses until their lungs fill, and demanding that they reveal their secrets on the promise that if they do, you'll stop forcibly drowning them. If a Pakistani terrorist kidnapped Laura Bush, strapped her to a board, covered her mouth, and forced water through her nose until her lungs filled, would that be torture?

Jon Huntsman made the most eloquent case against waterboarding.

"This country has values," he said. "We have a name brand in the world... I've been an ambassador for my country three times. I've lived overseas and done business. We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project that include liberty and democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Water-boarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries and we lose our ability to project values that a lot of people in a lot of corners of the world are still relying on the United States to stand up for."

ASSASSINATING AMERICAN CITIZENS

President Obama insists that he has the authority to order the assassination of American citizens who haven't been convicted of any crime or afforded due process so long as he first declares -- in a secret process the details of which we're not allowed to know -- that the target is a terrorist. Said one of the moderators during the debate, "Is it appropriate for the American president -- on the president's say so alone -- to order the death of an American citizen suspected of terrorism?"

Mitt Romney fielded the question.

"Absolutely," he said. "In this case, this is an individual who aligned himself with a group who had declared war on the United States of America. And if there's someone who is going to join a group that declares war on America and we're in a war with that entity, then of course, anyone bearing arms with that entity is fair game for the United States of America." What Romney doesn't mention is that if al-Awlaki, the American citizen we've already assassinated, could be killed "on the president's say so alone," than anyone can be killed. Limiting the president's killing authority to targets who "declare war on America" is meaningless if someone can be found guilty of having declared war on America based on the president's say so alone.

That brings us to Newt Gingrich's frightening answer.

MODERATOR: "As president of the United States would you sign that death warrant for an American overseas who you believe is a terrorist suspect?"

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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