The fact that Republicans have become the party of torture goes a long way towards demonstrating the power of blind defensiveness in politics. The party has invested its entire psychological self-image in being the tough, strong camp that will do what is necessary to keep America safe over the objections of weak, effeminate liberals, despite the fact that the GOP spent all its recent time in power making one howling strategic error after another.
Torture is where the defensiveness is most apparent. The fact that the Bush administration tortured a bunch of people — many of whom were totally innocent — for no benefit whatsoever simply can't be faced, at least without discrediting the party's position on foreign policy altogether. Hence, all the evidence of the party's gross security incompetence must be buried, ignored, or denied, and its puffed-up self-image asserted ever more desperately.
This pitiful insecurity was illustrated yet again this week by Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who joined Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush as a supporter of Bush-era torture. "[W]aterboarding was used in a very small handful of cases [and] was supervised by medical personnel in every one of those cases," she told Yahoo Politics' Michael Isikoff, adding that it was only used when there was no other option.
Fiorina is utterly wrong, as Simon Maloy shows. In fact, the Senate torture report contradicts Fiorina's assertions at every point. Waterboarding was used hundreds of times. It was not effectively supervised by medical personnel. Moreover, CIA torture was far more extensive than waterboarding — it included beatings, sleep deprivation, freezing (to death in at least one instance), rape, mock executions, and more. It was used as a first resort, often before the identities of captives were even known (leading the CIA to torture its own informants by mistake on one occasion). Many victims were totally innocent.
Fiorina dismisses the Senate report, but its general conclusions are supported by several other independent investigations, and the extensive social science literature on torture in general. Torture is evil, highly illegal, and for intelligence-gathering, "the clumsiest method available to organizations, even clumsier in some cases than flipping coins or shooting randomly into crowds," as Professor Darius Rejali writes. "The sources of error are systematic and ineradicable."
Then consider the self-interested motivations of the CIA torture apologists, virtually all of whom were personally implicated in sadistic war crimes. They simply aren't credible sources.
It turns out these include Fiorina herself. Back in the early 2000s, when she was busy running Hewlett-Packard into the ground, she made enough time to personally divert shipments of servers to the NSA on the request of NSA Director Michael Hayden, she told Isikoff, so that the NSA could start up its warrantless wiretapping scheme. She's also apparently BFFs with Jose Rodriguez (the notorious CIA goon who boasted of destroying the videotapes of the agency's interrogations), personally recommending him to be a CIA spokesman. No word yet if Fiorina would consider Angelo Mozilo for Treasury secretary.
All this is hardly surprising. Just consider the GOP record of late: The party's most recent president failed to prevent 9/11, and failed to prevent the anthrax attacks shortly afterward. His response was to start two wars of aggression, one of which had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11, and both of which were bungled horribly and lost. The Bush presidency ended with the military stretched to the breaking point, little progress in halting Islamic extremism, and the U.S. despised around the globe. His torture regime, as bad as it was, isn't even that far up the list of top Republican security disasters.
Fiorina is trying to present herself as a tough, no-nonsense hawk. But not only is she incapable of copping to any of her party's mistakes — not when Republicans broadly approve of both George W. Bush and torture — she probably doesn't even think they were mistakes to begin with.
This is, ultimately, what the GOP system produces: Sad, childish, insecure candidates constantly overcompensating with the world's most powerful military, leading to disastrous consequences both for America and for whichever unfortunate Middle Eastern nation happens to fall in the crosshairs.