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Anthony D. Romero

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Substance, Not Soundbites, Needed at GOP National Security Debate

Posted: 11/18/11 03:06 PM ET

The Republican presidential candidates will gather in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for a continuation of last week’s debate on foreign policy and national security. We hope it’s more substance than showmanship. What do I mean by this?

In the candidates’ first foreign policy debate last Saturday night, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said President Obama is “allowing the ACLU to run the CIA.” Let’s clear one thing up before the next debate: Gen. David Petraeus runs the CIA. Despite Bachmann’s efforts to sensationalize national security, however, this isn’t about Bachmann versus the ACLU; it’s about the Constitution.

More importantly, during last week’s debate, four of the candidates (Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry), promoted “enhanced interrogation tactics,” including waterboarding, as necessary for national security.

Plain and simple, waterboarding is torture. As such, it is illegal under U.S. and international law. For good reason, I’m troubled when I constantly hear campaign rhetoric try to overtake the Constitution.

There was more. Most candidates also condoned indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killings of American citizens. And they made it clear they would not close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where dozens of men continue to be held without charges or trials. That’s quite a sorry list of assaults on our constitutional liberties.

Candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman came off as lonely voices Saturday with their stated opposition to waterboarding. Paul also opposes the use of indefinite detention and extra-judicial killings. As he said, “I don't think we should give up so easily on our rule of law.”

Neither do we.

This Tuesday night, we hope the candidates engage in a vigorous debate about national security and foreign policy by appealing to the values that have made the United States a moral beacon to the world. Keep politics on the stage and out of the Constitution.