HRC on torture: the “we don’t know” evasion

If she pretends she doesn’t know whether the Bush Administration is torturing people, she is not actually against torture.

Hillary Clinton bobs and weaves on torture:

Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unless elected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.

“It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn’t doing. We’re getting all kinds of mixed messages,” Clinton said. “I don’t think we’ll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what’s been going on, you’re not going to know.”

Andrew Sullivan isn’t happy. Neither is Matt Stoller. Kevin Drum is sick to his stomach.

But wait! says Greg Sargent. There was bobbing amid the weaving:

Q: Can I ask you a follow up? You mentioned Blackwater, you’ve said that at the beginning of your administration you’d ask the Pentagon to report. When it comes to special interrogation methods, obviously you’ve said you’re against torture, but the types of methods that are now used that aren’t technically torture but are still permitted, would you do something in your first couple days to address that, suspend some of the special interrogation methods immediately or ask for some kind of review?

HRC: Well I think I’ve been very clear about that too, we should not conduct or condone torture and it is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn’t doing, we’re getting all kinds of mixed messages. I don’t think we’ll know the truth until we have a new President. I think once you can get in there and actually bore into what’s been going on, you’re not going to know. I was very touched by the story you guys had on the front page the other day about the WWII interrogators. I mean it’s not the same situation but it was a very clear rejection of what we think we know about what is going on right now but I want to know everything, and so I think we have to draw a bright line and say ‘No torture — abide by the Geneva conventions, abide by the laws we have passed,’ and then try to make sure we implement that.

Nice try, but no cigar. Saying “No torture” is the opposite of a “bright line”; after all, Bush keeps saying “we don’t torture.” To say that “it is not yet clear what this Administration is or isn’t doing” sounds just like Glenn Reynolds.

The CIA just announced that it would no longer do waterboading. That clearly implies that the CIA was doing waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture. If HRC can’t say “No waterboarding,” her “No torture” isn’t worth the spit behind it.

The same goes for the cold cell, for “long time standing,” for “disappearing” people into secret prisons, and to “rendering” people to countries which we know practice torture. It’s legitimate to say “I won’t know just how bad things are until I’m President,” but it’s not legitimate to pretend that we don’t already know that torture is going on in our name, and that if we decide not to hold war crimes trials we at least need a truth and reconciliation commission to expose the facts.

Part of HRC’s problem is that the Bill Clinton regime didn’t have entirely clean hands, specifically on the “rendition” issue. But it now seems clear that if we want the country to make a clean break with current policies on maltreatment of captives, we can’t do so by putting HRC in the White House.

Update Taylor Marsh says this is right-wing hack-attack reporting aimed at poor, innocent HRC. Greg Sargent is surely right to say that the Post should have included the whole quote.

But let’s not get too meta about this. Clinton’s handlers are certainly aware of this. All the campaign has to do is issue a statement in her name saying “No waterboarding, no long time standing, no cold room, no sensory deprivation, no rendition.” Now that would be a bright line. But I’m not holding my breath.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: