Conservative media's take on torture: A laughing matter

Numerous conservative media figures have downplayed, mocked, and jeered the notion that the use on detainees of harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the recently released Justice Department memos constitutes torture.

Following President Obama's release of four previously classified Justice Department memos that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees -- including “stress positions,” “cramped confinement,” “sleep deprivation,” and “the waterboard” -- numerous conservative media figures have downplayed, mocked, and jeered the notion that those practices constitute torture. For instance, during the April 17 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted: “If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh.”

Media Matters for America has previously noted that Allen S. Keller, M.D., director of the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, submitted written testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that stated that waterboarding can cause "[l]ong term effects includ[ing] panic attacks, depression and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," and said it poses a “real risk of death.” Moreover, Media Matters documented that a Department of Defense official concluded that the combination and duration of multiple interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, prolonged exposure to cold, sustained deprivation, and waterboarding constituted torture.

Listed below are further examples of conservative media personalities making light of the idea that such practices constitute torture:

  • During the April 16 edition of CNN's No Bias, No Bull, convicted Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy compared the proposed technique of placing a detainee who “appears to have a fear of insects” in “a cramped confinement box with an insect” to his appearance on a game show, stating, “I went through worse on Fear Factor.”
  • During the April 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Mike Huckabee mocked the same proposed technique, saying: “Look, I've been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced.” Huckabee went on to state that under the Obama administration, “We're going to talk to them, we're going to have a nice conversation, we're going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets.” Co-host Gretchen Carlson replied, “That usually works with your kids, too, right? When they're in trouble for something, they just tell you everything.” Co-host Steve Doocy then joked, “Mr. Moussaui, it's time for you over in the time-out chair.”
  • During the April 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough commented that “if putting a caterpillar in a box will save your child, that's OK.” Later, Scarborough stated: “Yeah, you know, millions of people are dead, but I feel good about myself -- we didn't put caterpillars in people's boxes.” Scarborough went on to say: “God, I go through torture everyday.”
  • During the April 17 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh said: “I just slapped myself. I'm torturing myself right now. That's torture according to these people.”
  • During the April 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Karl Rove equated presidential candidates' campaigning to sleep deprivation of detainees, saying of the CIA: “They authorized up to several hundred hours worth of sleep deprivation. They used it three times for a total of 96 hours. Remember when Bob Dole ran for president, and said that he was going to campaign nonstop for 96 hours? Do you remember when Al Gore was campaigning and said he was going to campaign for two days straight? Both of those men were, according to the left, torturing themselves by engaging in sleep deprivation.”
  • During the “Panel Plus” segment of the April 19 edition of Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol argued: “I'm not confident that forswearing the use of the techniques is prudent.” Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume went on to characterize the technique of throwing detainees against a false wall as “very controlled,” while host Chris Wallace called the technique “fairly cautious and careful.”
  • During the April 20 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade commented that he “feel[s] better” knowing that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “waterboarded 183 times.”
  • During the April 20 edition of his show, Limbaugh stated that “if somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn't torture.”