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The Cruel and Unusually Punishing First GOP Debate | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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The Cruel and Unusually Punishing First GOP Debate

Waterboarding is torture.

But it is not the only cruel and unusual punishment. 

Consider Thursday night’s “presidential” debate between Republican also-rans Tim Pawlenty, Rich Santorum, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul – a former governor, a former senator, a former CEO, another former governor and a former Libertarian Party nominee for the nation’s top job.

The first face-off between the Grand Old Party’s third-stringers was so bereft of consequence that House Speaker John Boehner, spotted at a Washington steakhouse at the same time the Fox News-hosted debate was going on, allowed as how he would be satisfied to “read about it tomorrow.”

On a night when everyone who might actually end up as the party’s challenger to President Obama was otherwise engaged, the Republican remainders distinguished themselves with lines like Godfather’s Pizza king Cain’s response to a question about Afghanistan policy: "At this point, I don’t know all the facts."

But the lowlight of the Fox News debate came when the issue of waterboarding arose.

Asked if they would authorize use of the torture technique, candidates Pawlenty, Cain and Santorum raised their hands to signal that they were cool with violating the 8th amendment to the Constitution.

Santorum chirped, “Sure!”

The crowd applauded the supporters of waterboarding. 

But Johnson and Paul refused to dismiss the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Paul went further, explaining that he opposed torture for practical reasons as well.

Waterboarding techniques make no sense, the congressman said, "Because you don't achieve anything."

Santorum leapt on that line, creating one of the few clashes during the debate.

"Well, that's simply not true, Ron. I mean, the fact is that some of this information that we have found out that led to Osama bin Laden actually came from these enhanced interrogation techniques," the former senator.

Paul was right. Santorum was wrong.

Who says?

Arizona Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, former prisoner of war and a hyper-attentive observer of intelligence gathering with regard to the current "war on terror."

Says McCain: “So far I know of no information that was obtained, that would have been useful, by ‘advanced interrogation.’"

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