GOP Presidential Hopefuls Disagree on Torture
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Steve Inskeep is in Iowa for today's Democratic debate.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the latest Republican presidential candidate to weigh in on the techniques American interrogators should be able to use on terrorism suspects.
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican, Arkansas): There is seemingly a virtual unanimous understanding among recent Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as from other military experts, that torture is simply an ineffective way of extracting information that is useful.
MONTAGNE: Huckabee yesterday said he agrees with Senator John McCain that the interrogation tactic known as waterboarding is torture. All the major Republican candidates have addressed this question, some more definitively than others.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on where Huckabee's position fits with the other Republicans in the race.
ARI SHAPIRO: Let's start with something everyone can agree on. Ask the Republicans running for president whether torture is legal, and the unanimous answer is no. This was Massachusetts' Governor Mitt Romney during last week's Republican presidential debate on CNN.
(Soundbite of Republican Presidential Debate)
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form.
SHAPIRO: Things start to get a little messier when you ask the candidates to parse the definition of torture.
Mr. ROMNEY: I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques will we use in interrogating people.
SHAPIRO: In the last few years, government memos broadening the definition of torture and TV shows like "24" have made the ticking-time-bomb scenario part of the American vernacular in a way that it didn't use to be.
(Soundbite of TV show, "24")
(Soundbite of gun shot)
(Soundbite of screaming)
Mr. PETER WELLER (Actor): (As Christopher Henderson) You son of a (bleep).
Mr. KIEFER SUTHERLAND (Actor): (As Jack Bauer) I shot her above the kneecap.
Mr. WELLER: (As Christopher Henderson) You son of a (bleep).
Mr. SUTHERLAND: She can still walk. You make me shoot her again, she'll be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Mr. WELLER: (As Christopher Henderson) Damn you.
Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) I want (unintelligible) gas.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential candidate): I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not "24" and Jack Bauer.
SHAPIRO: That's Arizona Senator John McCain. He has been tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
And at last week's debate, McCain attacked Romney for refusing to say outright that the interrogation technique of controlled drowning known as waterboarding is torture.
(Soundbite of Republican Presidential Debate)
Sen. McCAIN: Well, governor, I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is.
Mr. ROMNEY: I know what waterboarding is, senator.
Sen. McCAIN: Then I am astonished that you would think such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our - who we are held captive, and anyone could believe that that's not torture.
SHAPIRO: In a speech the next day, McCain pointed out that Japanese soldiers in World War II were hanged for inflicting various forms of torture on American prisoners, including waterboarding.
Like Romney, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has refused to explicitly rule out waterboarding. Giuliani has emphasized his strong stance on national security throughout the campaign, and in an interview last month with Bloomberg TV, he said intensive questioning works.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Political Capital with Al Hunt")
Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Republican, New York): If I didn't use intensive questioning, there'd 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.
SHAPIRO: Giuliani has mocked the idea that sleep deprivation is torture, saying, on that theory, I'm getting tortured running for president of the United States. The U.S. Army field manual classifies sustained sleep deprivation as a form of mental torture.
Since 9/11, the Bush administration has struggled with these questions in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and overseas CIA prisons. Attorney General Michael Mukasey almost was not confirmed based on his refusal to classify waterboarding as torture. When Huckabee was asked yesterday whether he thinks waterboarding is illegal, he said, yes, I do.
Mr. HUCKABEE: What we don't get is reliable information. What we do get is a very challenged soldier who has participated in something that goes against not only his or her own moral code, but against our own sense of justice in this country.
SHAPIRO: The Democrats running for president are much more uniform in their condemnation of harsh interrogations, and the leading Democratic candidates have indicated that depending on whom the Republican nominee is, torture may well be an issue in the general election.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News.
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