In the wake of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy victory to date, Republicans have gone out of their way not to give the commander-in-chief too much credit for taking out Osama bin Laden. They are even using the opportunity to burnish George W. Bush’s tarnished reputation and validate discredited “enhanced interrogation” techniques used to torture detainees overseas.
“We obtained that information through waterboarding,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Fox News on Monday night. “So for those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information, which directly led us to Bin Laden.” Likewise, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Twitter, “Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?”
The early evidence, however, cast doubt on the notion that torture was integral to finding and killing bin Laden. According to the Associated Press, the courier who tipped off the CIA about Bin Laden’s location had been questioned using standard interrogation techniques, not “enhanced” ones. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that “it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding” that yielded critical information on Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Attorney General Eric Holder was a bit more circumspect during a Tuesday morning hearing, saying he didn’t know whether the action against bin Laden was based on information derived from torture. And Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman has concluded that torture played, at most, a minor role in the hunt based on what we know so far.
By propping up torture, Republicans have also continued their larger project to vindicate Bush, whom they’ve repeatedly credited for helping to bring down Bin Laden. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) paid effusive tribute to Bush, praising his leadership, with only brief mention of Obama’s role in bringing Bin Laden to justice. “Nearly ten years ago, President Bush stood before the nation after 9/11 and pledged to the American people that we will not tire and we will not falter, and we will not fail in our quest to defeat those who intend to do us harm through acts of terror,” he said. “Last night we heard President Obama tell a very changed nation that we did not fail.” The remarks built on a press statement that Cantor initially released, in which he commended Obama for having “followed the vigilance of President Bush in bringing Bin Laden to justice.”
Other Republicans have since followed suit: On Monday, Sarah Palin told a crowd of university students, “We thank President Bush for having made the right calls to set up this victory.” According to an early analysis by FrumForum, House Republicans were almost equally inclined to credit Bush for Bin Laden’s death as they were to credit Obama. Republicans have also grasped on the discovery that Bush’s “secret prisons” overseas may have yielded the earliest information about Bin Laden.
There are a few detractors within the Republican Party when it comes to the notion that Bush’s enhanced interrogation helped the US. “This idea we caught Bin Laden because of waterboarding is a misstatement,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) told reporters on Tuesday. “I do not think this is a time for celebrating waterboarding.” He added, “The problems at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib caused us great misery, and it was a recruiting tool.”
Still the meme that “waterboarding works” entered the political bloodstream less than 24 hours after the news of Bin Laden’s death, supported by Graham’s GOP colleagues and echoed by the right-wing blogosphere. One Bush-era official famously said, “we create our own reality.” So it appears do the GOP’s torture apologists.