Would a President Romney Bring Back Enhanced Interrogation?

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, September 28, 2012, 11:48 AM

Jack linked yesterday to this Charlie Savage story about this internal Romney campaign draft memo urging a full-throated embrace of “enhanced interrogation”---written a year ago by Romney’s “national security law subcommittee.” The memo recommends that:

Governor Romney could pledge that upon taking office, he will rescind and replace President Obama’s Executive Order restricting government interrogators to the Army Field Manual. Consistent with the authority reserved for the President under the Military Commissions Act, he could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives. But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.

Mitt Romney, as Savage notes, has publicly promised to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques, so the memo is not much of a surprise. Just for the record, however, I don’t believe that Romney actually will change policy on this front if elected---at least not in the short term.

The reason is very simple: There’s no reason to.

The CIA is hardly begging to get back into the detention and interrogation game. American forces are not capturing large numbers of high value detainees. Those we do capture are not proving resistant to current interrogation methods. And in any event, the current executive order permits, in a crisis, the attorney general to give new legal guidance if necessary (See Sec. 3(c)). Romney would have to be, under these circumstances, especially committed to coercive interrogation to rescind and replace Obama’s executive order in order to recreate a program the agency does not want, to handle detainees who don’t exist, to replace techniques that aren’t causing a problem, and to address an intelligence gap that has not yet materialized.

I’m not a particular foe of the old CIA’s program, and I don’t believe that the Army Field Manual exhausts all lawful interrogation techniques---so in principle I’m not averse to what the memo here contemplates. But I also don’t believe there’s a problem right now that we need a coercive interrogation program to solve. And I doubt very much that---campaign memos and statements aside---Romney is going to get into office and move decisively to restore the CIA program.

Just a hunch, but I don’t buy it.