Some GOP candidates support waterboarding but CIA reluctant
November 16th, 2011
10:37 AM ET

Some GOP candidates support waterboarding but CIA reluctant

By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson

Some Republican presidential candidates want to put controversial harsh interrogation techniques back into the CIA toolbox, but whether the agency would ever use them again is very much in doubt.

During the GOP debate this weekend, several candidates said they supported reinstating the use of waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning, and is seen by many as a form of torture.

CNN spoke to more than a half dozen current and former intelligence officials who all believe waterboarding was effective in getting critical information from suspected terrorist detainees at the time it was used, but they believe CIA officers today would be very reluctant to use the technique even it was authorized by all the appropriate officials.

As Robert Grenier, the former director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center put it, "people in CIA would be very, very wary about going down this road under circumstances where it is not at all clear there is a political consensus behind the use of those sort of aggressive measures."

Another official said: "When you have years-long investigations into past practices, it's unlikely that you want to spend a minute engaged in them."

The administration of former President George W. Bush secretly approved the CIA's use of coercive interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 after the agency said it needed to take additional measures to secure information about possible future terrorist attacks from uncooperative detainees. The enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) included, among other things, stress positions, loud noise and waterboarding. The CIA also set up secret prisons to hold and interrogate the detainees.

Newspaper reports exposed the CIA's detention and interrogation program, setting off a firestorm of debate about the legality of the program and whether some of the techniques constitute torture.

When the administration of President Barack Obama took office, it opposed the use of EITs by the CIA and mandated that interrogations be carried out following the guidelines of the Army Field Manual. An inter-agency High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, known as HIG, was set up to deploy teams to participate in or support the questioning of suspected terrorists who were in custody in the United States or overseas.

The Obama administration also made public classified CIA documents that provided detailed descriptions of harsh interrogations used against CIA detainees, and the Attorney General launched an investigation into those activities.

During the Republican debate on Saturday, Rep. Michele Bachmann said she would be willing to once again allow waterboarding on suspected terrorists.

"I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country," she said, a judgment shared by fellow presidential candidates, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Herman Cain said he would follow the judgment of military leaders to determine what is torture. When specifically asked about waterboarding suspected terrorists, he responded: "I would return to that policy. I don't see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique."

But that position runs counter to the military's position. During recent congressional testimony, CIA Director David Petraeus pointed out that as the commanding general in Iraq, Afghanistan and at U.S. Central Command he had overseen the detention of more detainees than any other person in uniform. The retired general left no doubt where he stands on what is acceptable, not just for the military, but also the CIA.

"It was on my watch that we developed the Army Field Manual that now, based on an executive order, governs how interrogations are conducted ... The Army Field Manual techniques do work," said Petraeus.

A current U.S. official declined to comment on the hypothetical situation raised during the presidential debate, but said the current approach is working well.

John Rizzo was the CIA's senior lawyer during the period when the Bush administration developed the legal arguments in support of the then secret detentions and harsh interrogations. He did not object to the administration's findings.

Rizzo would not comment for this story, but last May, in a panel discussion on the topic, he said: "For the Agency to embark upon an interrogation program and take the lead in an interrogation and detention program, I think, first of all, if I was still there, I'd advise my colleagues against doing that given the experience in the past. If there was a national will, an administration will to involve the CIA directly in an admittedly risky, admittedly aggressive interrogation, the least the men and women in the agency deserve is consistency - tell them what they're doing, give them adequate legal cover to do it and for gods sake, don't change your mind 6-7 years down the road."

Several of the former intelligence officials wondered if the question is moot.

"Since we're seldom capturing people of importance these days, we may be past the period that this is ever likely to come up again," said one former official.

Former CIA Counterterrorism Center Director Grenier said many of the senior terrorists of interest to the United States are in areas of Yemen and Pakistan, beyond the ability of those nations to capture.

"That is why we are seeing so many senior terrorists who now disappear mysteriously in a puff of smoke, because there is no other effective way of getting at them," said Grenier, an oblique reference to the drone missile strikes that have killed hundreds of suspected terrorists. And Grenier also said the CIA has learned a lot over the years.

"I cannot imagine the CIA would ever want to employ waterboarding again simply because they gained sufficient expertise, that they no longer thought it was necessary," he said.

Even so, other officials believe you can never say never.

"You look at Iran right now, you look at North Korea and the scenarios that are all too real about attacks in the homeland, weapons of mass destruction, when that comes into play, those are game changers. Those circumstances can compel leaders and (CIA) operatives to do things that they wouldn't do a week ago," said yet another former senior intelligence official.

But this official said the question of what interrogation techniques are used in the future go beyond one person's opinion.

"The question is do we want to use it and it's not something the CIA or the president or the president-elect or some presidential candidate I believe can state without having a larger debate. It depends on circumstances."

Former CIA Director Mike Hayden, who advises the Mitt Romney campaign, agrees. "You can't answer this in the hypothetical. You can't because of changing circumstances. This was taken off the table in the Bush administration. Whatever you do in the future must be effective, and depends on the totality of the circumstances."

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Bachman • Cain • Central Intelligence Agency • Intelligence • Justice Department • Obama • Perry • Petraeus • Politics • Republican • Romney • Terrorism
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Anis

    Hmmmmm. Your linked NYT clomun didn't seem to influence the NYT editorial page. Today they're whining that the Senate has 'Abdicated and Capitulated' to the President because they didn't force Mukasey to illegally take the stand they're too cowardly to take.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:04 am | Reply
  2. jennylth

    Hey I just wanted to say hi and introduce me. I am looking forward to being a supporter of security.blogs.cnn.com! If you want to ask any thing please don't hesitate to ask

    December 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      Hi back at ya jennylth.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
      • weird

        Me too. And you know what? I honestly don't care if Ablog is up or rnnuing. Why? Because it's a laughable right wing site now. Lurking over there is like listening in on a Nazi Pancake Breakfast. LOL! And don't even get me started on how dull some of the Nazis are over there either. Dave of the Jungle is one of the few who is consistently funny and shows a personality. The rest just click their jackboots together, grab their crotches, and sing, We love Johnny! We love Johnny! We love Johnny and we hate to see right wing trolls banned! .

        April 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  3. Georgeudmx

    Hi everybody I simply wanted to expose myself. For those who have any queries please feel free to request. Remorseful regarding my own poor english

    December 10, 2011 at 11:36 am | Reply
  4. Chris Roberts

    Well if we are going to torture people how will we know if their confession is sincere after if you are being tortured wouldn't you confess to any crime .Why utlize technology such as modern day equipment lie detection test etc . Waterboarding playing load music for days is torture why not kill the person thats more humane .We must understand that terrorist are not truly bad they all believe they are fighting for something that is holy an just .It seems resonable to seek to understand the terrorist ,freedom fighter ,radical muslim extremist . It seems all people need something to believe in something to stand for perhaps the only thing worth living for is our own dignity .Isn't that why we war with others .It seems that the more poverty the more suffering people undergo the more likely they are to join with radicals .People over all are good in America we have millions of drug dealers ,gang members people are just wanting peace of mind It seems logical to spread love not war .

    November 17, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply
    • Paul Swigert

      They have ways of verifying statements to know if they are true or false. Islam and their followers do not want to make peace with anyone! They want to destroy everyone who will not succumb to their way of religious belief. There is no compromise with these people and until they are crushed under the might of our full military strength we are going to be forever dealing with these nut-jobs. Sadly the crusades didn't go far enough to wiping out the religion from the face of the earth. Attempting to appease them is how they are going to defeat the wonderful way of life we have developed here in the United States. Just look what has happened to England and their get-along philosophy. The honor killings alone are enough to make me realize they want to go back to living in the 7th century.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:20 am | Reply
  5. bucket dunker

    Bunch of idiots here u all don't know your head from your ass they should have an I q test to be able to post keep all the "occupy wall street" garbage off of here...lol

    November 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • mike halter

      We are the 99% and we need to vote.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:06 am | Reply
  6. bucket dunker

    Drowned them all freaking terrorist

    November 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  7. Tod

    If the GOP candidates who believe that waterboarding is not torture were subjected to it, do you think they would change their mind?

    Want a REALLY interesting next debate? Major Media, want to see your ratings go through the roof?

    All those in that camp get to be subjected to waterboarding on live camera while we all watch as Cain admits to the sexual harrassment, Bachmann says gay marriage is okay, and Romney says that he supports Obamacare. Those admissions or statements could serve as their "safe words"

    Former Presidential candidate and Senator John McCain was severely tortured for several years while he was a POW, so he is well acquainted with torture. He says that waterboarding is torture.

    When watching this video, keep in mind that this is VERY mild waterboarding and that Ed knows the people doing this and that they will stop as soon as he asks them to stop. In real waterboarding, none of that holds true. (MMA = Mixed Martial Arts, btw) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=823cXoWW9Gw&feature=player_embedded

    November 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  8. Clinton Dickens

    The numerous debates the republican presidential candidates are having are giving the people of our great nation to see where the GOP stands on the issues. It is sad to say, but a nation that spends many billons of dollars on questionable wars while many of it's citizens struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, lack basic health care, live in inadequate housing (if they have housing at all) no longer deserves to be referred to as great. The people of this country must stop this non-productive bickering and concentrate on the common good of all of our citizens if our land can ever again deserve to be called a great nation.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  9. Coflyboy

    Sure! I would support waterboarding the GOP anytime!

    November 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  10. Robert Fallin

    You are wong. That case applies to a declare war and Gitmo detainees were not apprehended as part of a declared war. Further, many Gitmo detainees have not been tried by a military tribunal, even after nearly 10 years of incarceration without formal charges. If I recall correctly, the Bush administration lost a case regarding due process of the detainees before the US Supreme Court. Lie? Yes.

    November 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • Buzzer

      Check my statement to your previous below...

      November 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • Hichem

      John hits it right on the head.The American Crusade that numb nuts Bush started ngsiaat Al Quida was about as poorly thought out as anything we ever did. Anihlation is all that the Muslims understand or subscribe to. An Arab that belongs to a Mosque is a terrorist. If he (or she ) believes in the koran, then they believe in terrorism. The Koran is not a religious bible, it is a creed of terror. And the idiots in Washington should not consider it as a protected religion.Of course both the Democrats and Republicans will kiss any ass for a vote. Neut Gingrich would probably make an excellent choice for president. Where he lose creditability was with the Contract with America . It was what the American people wanted and swept the Republican's into office. And then, the useless politicians proceeded to totally dismantel and corrupt it. No one in the world trusts us. We suddenly pulled out of Korea and Vietnam letting millions of the people who helped us get slaughtered.The first Gulf War, George senior did the same thing. Suddenly ended the war, leaving a million Kurds who helped us be slaughtered by Saddam.I'm all for getting our boys out of Afganistan and Iraq. But, we are doing the same thing again. I was more for never going in there in the first place. I have always believed that, You should never place men on the ground in any country that you don't want to keep . Anyway, Most of our successes have been with guided missiles, bombs and remotely piloted aircraft. Even the boys who don't get killed, come home with mental and physical disabilities that they will never get over.Another thing that amazes me is the many billions of dollars we give to each of the Muslim nations every year to support their people. And, I don't think that the Arab people ever see any of the money. Pakistan, who supported the 9-11 attack gets $405 billion dollars a year from us.Well', I guess we got some of it back on 9-11.

      April 7, 2012 at 2:02 am | Reply
      • robertfallin

        Oh, I see. The United States starts an illegal war (illegal under both the Constitution and International law), so it is both legally and morally correct to commit further illegal acts. When Bush and his cronies are finally apprehended, tried and hit the end of the rope, while their necks are snapping, you can think about how that could have been YOU for aiding and abetting war crimes. Sleep tight.

        April 7, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. Paul Swigert

    Are we going to become the biggest push-over country in the world? If the leftists have their way this country may as well give up its entire military because using guns against people will cause them pain if they are shot. Oh we don't need any planes, guns, missiles, bombs, or any other harmful weapons used to cause harm to other human beings. We should just "chuck" all of our weapons because we live in "La La Land" and there isn't any evil in the world we need to protect ourselves from. Where do you people come from, because you sure aren't living in the same world I am.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • Thomas

      Your post really does not make any sense.

      November 17, 2011 at 11:17 am | Reply
  12. Jay

    There is solid evidence that 'enhanced interrogation' is actually counter productive. Interrogators will keep torturing until they get the answer they want, as opposed to accurate intel, reinforcing assumptions and wasting manpower tracking down false leads. Those being tortured will say anything to get the torture to stop, as happened with those who confessed to being 'witches'.
    Barbaric practice, bad intel.
    Only the evil and the scared support torture.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • fda

      you are correct that its not nessecary in every situation. But if you were hanging out at Obama's compound when he was killed, waterboarding is nessecary. THere must be a clause that states in detail when waterboarding is acceptable.

      November 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
      • fda

        Osama sorry!

        November 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Robert Fallin

    I forgot to mention Newt Gingrich. Further, Gingrich presented the bogus argument that Gitmo detainees are not allowed due process under the Constitution. This is a lie.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • Buzzer

      Do your research on Johnson v. Eisentrager, involving 21 German nationals who had been convicted of espionage by U.S. military commissions convened in China and then transferred to U.S. detention facilities in Allied-occupied Germany. The Supreme Court ruled that the German prisoners did not have a right to be released under habeas corpus because they "at no relevant time were within any territory over which the United States is sovereign, and the scenes of their offense, their capture, their trial and their punishment were all beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States." This applies to Gitmo as well, so a lie? No.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
    • Buzzer

      Robert: I stand corrected, referencing Boumediene v. Bush (2008) in the USSC's 5-4 ruling, BUT Gingrich has made it perfectly clear that he well aware of the USSC's ruling, but he simply thinks (or interprets) that the detainees shouldn't be affored the rights in his OPINION and his disagreement with the USSC's decision. He seems to be in favor of allowing each of the three branches of the government to decide for itself what the limits of the Constitution are as they apply specifically to that branch’s powers. Despite this OPINION, he knows full well the authority of the USSC and would comply just as President Bush did.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  14. Robert Fallin

    I would like your article better, if you would have identified those who support waterboarding as well as those who oppose waterboarding. Including Michelle Bachmann, those supporting "waterboarding" are Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and, with qualifications, Herman Cain.. Those opposing "waterboarding" under any circumstances are Ron Paul, Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  15. Troy Owen

    Of course they do (GOP) most republicans are heartless, greedy, hypocrites, claiming to be family oriented Christan's.
    BUT they hate gays, and they love torture! Why do we still put them in office?

    November 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Reply
    • james d

      you forgot that GOP candidate Ron Paul opposes torture and wasted foreign incusions.

      January 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • Sahista

      Jonolan, he may have said that outloud, but as soon as he went back into the Senate, he voted anagist the Democrat's anti-waterboarding bill. He loves torture now because he's running for president and wants to impress the knuckledraggers of the Neocon Party! See?Waterboarding is clearly defined as being torture and illegal in the Geneva Conventions. Ask Bush what he and Dick Cheney think about the Geneva Convention. They spit on it!This explains why Bush refused to keep America's signature on the International Criminal Court back in early 2001. War criminals .every last one of them.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  16. fredo2Gs

    Mitt Romney will say anything. Seriously, he will say anything. Elect him and the world will become a magical place where elves and ferries fly around dropping gold coins. I guess saying they'll listen to their military and intelligence advisors was just something to say. Water boarding doesn't work... a person being tortured will make up anything. Why are we having this debate? I thought this was over.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  17. ..a laurel and hardy handshake..............

    Heck, the teanut-gop wants to back up and ATTACK IRAQ AGAIN! Michele darlin' Bachmann says that since we 'invested' 4,400 dead and $1 Trillion IN THE WRONG PLACE, that we SHOULD STAY THERE!
    ..Sen. John McCain AGREES WITH MICHELE DARLIN' and the rest of the TEANUTS!
    ..Also, THE TEANUT-GOP says that WATERBOARDING IS A-OKAY – sure, BUT ONLY IF THEY WILL SERVE AS A WATER-BOARD DUMMY; the DUMMY PART IS IN KEEPING WITH THE CAIN/PERRY platforms!!

    November 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  18. DBerry

    Of course RON PAUL is not mentioned here explaining that he strictly opposes waterboarding or any type of torture. Why does our country and our leaders automatically go to extreme and unlawful measures that actually have negative impact on our safety by reducing the world's view of us and making people hate us? We need to take the high road and not lower our moral standards.

    Restore America's place in the world. RON PAUL 2012!

    November 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  19. Obayashi

    There was a former FBI agent, who was able to convince one detainee to give a nickname of bin Laden's courier. That led to tracking down who that person was. And this was done without subjecting the detainee to waterboarding. Yet all of the GOP minions starting from Cheney down to Bachmann saying it is because of torture. That's garbage.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  20. mike halter

    I think Herman Cain needs to be waterboarded to see if he messed with those women.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • Thomas

      After all, it is not torture but "enhanced interrogation" according to Cain.

      November 17, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply
  21. Robert Albrecht

    Pam, what a joke of an article. You call all those that are disagreeing with the CIA but won't name the two candidates who AGREE with the agency? How is that not unbiased or a balance article? GIVE ME A BREAK! Ron Paul & Jon Huntsman are the only two Candidates out there with a head on their shoulders that aren't PANDERING to the hypocritical right wing.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
    • Jacquiline

      I don't see Ablog as being anti-neocon, do you? The fact that a few regulars made nice cemnomts to me after I was banned tells me the neocons crashed Ablog in retaliation to those Kay Likers. See? LOL When it's a Kay Hating blog the neocons and the neo-liberals run around throwing rose petals and singing Nationalist songs!

      April 7, 2012 at 12:07 am | Reply
  22. stmike

    All those Republican canidates that support waterboarding should be required to be waterboarded. Then they might change there mind as to whether it is torture.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  23. Harriet Frumplstein

    *CACKLE*

    November 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  24. jrdz

    What a ship of fools the GOP Clown Tea Bagger Car is. Looks like its running very fast off a cliff and there is no turning back. Tell me is your party going to send Obama a thank you letter when he wins in 2012?

    November 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  25. Jester2069

    It's a shame that people will actually be surprised that the CIA agrees with Ron Paul & Huntsman on this one.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  26. Saul Quinn

    I am outraged by the idiots ruining the Republican Party. This includes the GOP leadership, GOP Congress, GOP Presidential candidates.

    Only a complete fool could tear apart the GOP Presidential election.

    Bachmann is tearing apart Gingrich like she is a pit bull.

    Herman Cain and Rick Perry are so far gone. Perry is flip flopping more every day than the person we could care less about Mitt "Whats His Face?" Romney.

    Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman are the only GOP candidates making sense on international issues. They say waterboarding is torture but the others love torture and destroying countries and smacking around China.

    Mitt Romney and Bachmann want to cause world chaos by putting a tariff on China. Insanity.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Reply

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