Mitt Romney should scrap Barack Obama‘s ban on the torture of terror suspects and consider re-introducing waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” if he is elected president, a leaked Romney campaign policy document has urged.
The five-page memo entitled “Interrogation Techniques” advised Mr Romney to “rescind and replace” Mr Obama’s executive order outlawing the use of all torture.
The publication of the memo in the New York Times came just days before next Wednesday’s first presidential debate, and puts a clear red line between the Republican challenger and Mr Obama’s positions on handling captured terror suspects.
Mr Romney has consistently supported the use of interrogation methods, while in one of his first acts on taking office, Mr Obama shut down the CIA’s interrogation programme, stating unequivocally in April 2009: “I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.”
Mr Romney has consistently refused to specify what interrogation techniques he would authorise as president, arguing that to do so would give unnecessary advantage to the terrorists.
However in December last year, when pushed by a reporter on whether he believed waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — was torture, he replied: “I don’t.”
The leaked document prepared for his “national security law subcommittee” in September 2011 also asserted that “Governor Romney has recognized for years that the sounder policy outcome is the revival of the enhanced interrogation programme”.
The memo, written by a group of conservative lawyers, many of whom are veterans of the George W Bush administration, argued that Mr Obama’s decision had almost certainly “hampered” the fight against terrorism.
Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative and the author of Administration of Torture, a book detailing the Bush administration’s torture policy, said the memo was “extremely dangerous”.
“The memo is dangerous. Torture is not only immoral, it’s illegal,” she told The Telegraph. “The US has signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Torture which states specifically there can be no exceptional circumstances. This memo urges the violation of international and domestic law.”
However she added that Mr Obama, by failing to prosecute those responsible for authorizing torture during the Bush era, was responsible for leaving open the door to the possible return of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
“It’s because of that failure of accountability that we’re now seeing the emergence of these kinds of memos in the Romney campaign,” she said.
“If the Obama administration is serious about ending torture, he must set about holding those responsible for authorising torture accountable.”
Republicans are divided on the issue of waterboarding. In 2008 Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran who is fiercely opposed to torture, clashing angrily with Mr Romney during a Republican primary debate, attacking him for mincing words over whether the technique constituted torture.
“It’s in violation of the Geneva Conventions, it’s in violation of existing law. Governor Romney, let me tell you, if we’re going to get the high ground and we’re going to be the America that has been cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we’re not going to torture people,” he said in a televised debate.