Yesterday afternoon, former Republican Congressman and 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr had the audacity to say, "Waterboarding is torture." The reason it took audacity is that he was at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He was promptly booed.
Barr's statement that created the small controversy is this:
BARR: But I don't think we should go down the path of allowing our leaders to have their cake and eat it too. There is nothing magical about a military tribunal. They don't have necessarily better lawyers than the civilian sector. I think I have a lot more faith in our US attorneys who are nonpolitical than my colleagues on the other side of this debate. We can try them. We should try them. That is precisely, Jay, what our law provides for. And the first time we're faced with a situation we say, "Oh we're going to have them go to the military let them torture them for a while, it's not enhanced interrogation technique. Waterboarding is torture! How would you like to be waterboarded? Try that!
So not only did the man go against the word of Bush and Dick Cheney, but he supports something Obama is doing with trying terrorism suspects (although, I would argue, not doing enough)! For those of you taking notes, that's what it takes to be booed by a large gathering of neocons.
It's not like Barr is ignorant on these issues. Not only was a member of Congress and presidential candidate, but he was also a US Attorney in Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He is not simply a pundit. He knows the law, and he knows that waterboarding is torture and it is illegal. You can find a video of Barr's full statement on YouTube.
Since leaving the Republican Party, Barr has become a rare conservative (and I do believe that Barr could be classified as conservative, even though there are left libertarians, anarchists, minarchists, and plenty of other ideologies within the Libertarian Party) leader who takes a principled stand against torture and for civil liberties. He recently debated torture advocate, war criminal, and 'torture memo' author John Yoo on the issue of torture.
Barr writes a column for the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, in which he does advocate for returning to Americans their civil liberties. For instance, there is this recent column against full body scanners at airports:
The federal government is hell-bent on installing full-body x-ray scanners in airports across the country in the wake of the failed, Christmas Day bomb attempt by the Nigerian Brainiac. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has directed that the government will spend tens of millions of our dollars to purchase and install the fancy-dandy, but largely un-proven, "back-scatter" machines as quickly as possible. In an effort to quell serious privacy concerns that have been raised about the graphic images the devices create, the government repeatedly has assured the public that the images revealed to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees manning the consoles, cannot be retained or transmitted.
After Barr left the panel, he was asked about prosecuting "CIA agents who used waterboarding." He answered bluntly.
Is it appropriate to look into those who violated the law? Sure!
So, in the spirit of ending the dumb partisanship that abounds these days, let's celebrate Bob Barr's actions! If there's still a prominent conservative out there - one who is even invited to CPAC - who's advocating for justice and the rule of law, maybe there's a bit of hope left on this front.