3 Top Republican Candidates Take a Hard Line on the Interrogation of Detainees function
By MARC SANTORA
Published: November 3, 2007
A central tenet of every leading Republican candidate’s campaign for president is one simple and powerful idea: I alone can best defend the United States from the threat of terrorism.
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Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Mitt Romney, in Iowa Friday, has said he would double the size of the Guantánamo prison.
And in recent weeks, three candidates, Rudolph W. Giuliani
, Mitt Romney
and Fred D. Thompson
, have embraced some of the more controversial policies on the treatment of those suspected of supporting terrorism, backing harsh interrogation methods and refusing to rule out the use of waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, on detainees.
Their public statements came as the debate over whether waterboarding is torture had threatened to derail the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey
as attorney general after he refused to call the technique illegal.
Not only do the three candidates refuse to rule out waterboarding and other techniques that have been condemned, but they also believe the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, needs to remain open, and they back the practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are sent for questioning to other countries, including some accused of torture.
The only leading Republican candidate to condemn each of the practices outright has been Senator John McCain
, a former prisoner of war who was tortured in a North Vietnamese prison. On Friday, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, strongly criticized his rivals and cited their lack of wartime experience, saying they “chose to do other things when this nation was fighting its wars.”
Mr. Giuliani shot back, saying Mr. McCain “has never run a city, never run a state, never run a government.”
The often-unbending statements of Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Romney on detainee treatment have put them at odds even with the Bush administration, which, under intense pressure at home and abroad, has moved to curb some of the practices, and called in general terms for closing the prison at Guantánamo.
While the three candidates all condemn torture, they have been purposefully vague about what constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment.
Mr. Giuliani often frames the threat of terrorism in graphically personal terms, telling crowds that Islamic extremists “hate you” and want to come to the United States and “kill you.” In that vein, he has been perhaps the most forceful in suggesting that the president must be able to take extraordinary steps to combat terrorist threats.
“I think the president has to retain ultimate authority to be able to deal with terrorism in a way that’s different than dealing with an armed combatant from a nation state,” Mr. Giuliani said in a recent interview.
Their positions have come under fire from leading Democrats who say they unconditionally oppose torture, want Guantánamo closed and oppose rendition.
The leading Republican candidates, including Mr. McCain, have largely supported the enhanced powers granted to law enforcement authorities under the USA Patriot Act
But it is on treatment of prisoners that the divisions emerge. Mr. McCain is alone among the top Republican candidates in condemning waterboarding, which has become the litmus test in gauging an openness to interrogation techniques that are widely considered torture.
Mr. Giuliani also joked about another interrogation technique, sustained sleep deprivation.
“They talk about sleep deprivation,” he said. “I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly.”
Sustained sleep-deprivation is described in the United States Army Field Manual on Interrogation as a form of mental torture, and the practice has been ruled inhumane by the Supreme Court of Israel and the European Court of Human Rights.
In an interview yesterday with Albert R. Hunt on Bloomberg TV, Mr. Giuliani said: “Now, intensive questioning works. If I didn’t use intensive questioning, there would be a lot of Mafia guys running around New York right now and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is. Intensive questioning has to be used. Torture should not be used. The line between the two is a difficult one.”
The differences between the leading Republicans on interrogation and the handling of detainees first arose in May at a debate in South Carolina, when Mr. McCain was the only candidate to condemn torture outright.
As Mr. Romney was preparing for his presidential bid, he visited Guantánamo Bay in the spring of 2006 and said he “came away with no concerns with regards to the fair and appropriate treating of these individuals.” In the May debate, Mr. Romney said he would “double Guantánamo.”
Mr. Romney has also said that in the event of an extreme terrorist threat, he would not rule out even the harshest interrogation techniques, echoing comments made by his national security adviser, Maj. Gen. James Marks, who is retired.
When the general was asked, in a 2005 interview on CNN, how far he would go if he thought he could elicit information that would save the lives of either American soldiers or civilians, he replied, “I’d stick a knife in somebody’s thigh in a heartbeat.”
Mr. Thompson has argued that there are circumstances where “you have to do what is necessary to get the information that you need.”
The stances of Mr. Thompson, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have drawn fire not only from leading Democrats but also from human rights groups.
“At a time when the U.S. military has denounced torture and is working hard to restore U.S. moral authority, it’s irresponsible that some presidential candidates are still suggesting that torture is O.K.,” said Jennifer Daskal, a counterterrorism expert at Human Rights Watch
. “Candidates appear to be pandering to peoples’ fears in a reckless attempt to win the label ‘toughest.’”
Mr. Giuliani’s views on detainee treatment seem to have hardened in recent months. For instance, last spring he said waterboarding crossed the line of what was acceptable. Last week, he pulled back from that stance.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., seven months ago, he said: “I haven’t been to Guantánamo. I can’t judge Guantánamo.”
Now, although he has still not visited Guantánamo, Mr. Giuliani says that he thinks the prison there is a critical tool. Like Mr. Romney, he focuses on the physical condition the prisoners are kept in rather than their still-undefined legal status.
Critics, however, not only condemn the conditions at Guantánamo but also find it unacceptable that the majority of detainees have been in legal limbo for more than five years, with only a handful facing formal charges.
Mr. Thompson was dismissive of such concerns when asked for his opinion at a recent campaign stop in Tampa, Fla. “I think that Guantánamo Bay is necessary,” he said. “Those who have criticized Guantánamo Bay do not come with any alternative.”
Mr. McCain said that was simply false, noting he has pushed to have the prisoners moved to the military base at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He said they should not be treated with the same rights as American citizens, but should be afforded trials.