Republican Candidates Differ on Waterboarding of Terror Suspects

Republican presidential candidates differed on whether waterboarding should be used as an interrogation technique in fighting terrorism as they debated national security ahead of the early nominating contests.

“I want to save American lives and that’s why I want the CIA to have every interrogation tool available to them so that we can win the war on terror,” Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

Four of the candidates split evenly when asked about waterboarding during a debate Nov. 12 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Hosted by CBS News and the National Journal, it was the Republicans’ 10th debate and the first focused on national security.

Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain said they favored waterboarding as an effective interrogation technique. Cain said that he doesn’t see waterboarding as torture, and doesn’t “agree with torture. Period.”

“However, I would trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture,” Cain said. “That is the critical consideration.”

Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. said they opposed waterboarding, in which water is poured into a cloth placed over a detainee’s mouth to simulate drowning.

Illegal and Immoral

“It’s illegal under international law and under our law,” Paul said during the debate. “It’s also immoral.”

“Waterboarding is torture,” Huntsman said in the debate.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in the debate that he supported the order by President Barack Obama that authorized the killing overseas of an American citizen suspected of terrorist activity. Romney said it “absolutely” is appropriate for the president to issue such an order.

A nationwide Gallup poll released Nov. 9 found that with 45 percent of Republicans believe Romney will be the party’s presidential nominee, with 13 percent naming Cain and 9 percent predicting Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Romney has been leading or second in polls of the Republican presidential race conducted this year, yet his backing has never risen beyond 25 percent to 30 percent.

“There is not really a frontrunner,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former head of the Republican National Committee, said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “Mitt Romney is the best known of our candidates, not a true front runner.”

“We’re kind of going through Cinderella trying on a slipper,” Barbour said.

Pakistani Aid

The candidates also differed during the debate on how tough they would get in dealing with Pakistan as president.

Perry said he didn’t trust Pakistan’s political and military leadership, and proposed looking anew at U.S. foreign aid to countries each year instead of awarding a set amount year after year. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia agreed with Perry.

Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum opposed cutting off aid or threatening Pakistan because the country has a nuclear arsenal. If the Pakistani state were weakened, terrorists might get access to those weapons, said Bachmann, a member of the U.S. House’s intelligence committee.

Cain said he wasn’t sure if Pakistan was a friend or foe, and called for more military commitment from the South Asian nation to combat terrorists.

Huntsman said he would condition American aid to Pakistan on movement in that country toward political overhaul and expansion of the free market. “We’ve got have an ongoing relationship with Pakistan that allows them to move in the direction of stability,” Huntsman said yesterday on CBS.

Anti-Christian Countries

Gingrich in the debate said he would cut foreign aid to countries that adopt anti-Christian policies. He said the so- called Arab Spring, the democratic uprising in the Mideast, risks becoming “anti-Christian spring” in Muslim nations such as Egypt, where Coptic Christians have been attacked.

Asked during the debate how he would counter China’s attacks on U.S. computer networks that lead to theft of intellectual property, Perry said “fighting this cyber-war” is “one of the great issues that will face the next president of the United States, and we must win it.”

Romney said he would get China’s attention to stop the attacks by taking the country to the World Trade Organization for manipulating its currency in order to artificially lower prices and run a trade surplus.

“And that allows us to apply selectively tariffs where we believe they are stealing our intellectual property, hacking into our computers or artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs,” Romney said during the debate.

China ‘Trade War’

Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China, countered Romney and Perry by saying that a confrontation with the world’s second largest economy may hurt the U.S. too.

“I don’t know that this country needs a trade war with China. Who does it hurt?” Huntsman said. “Small businesses in South Carolina, our exporters, our agriculture producers” would be hurt by such a move, he said. “We don’t need that at a time when China is about to embark on a generational transition.”

Across the country in Hawaii, Obama called for more cooperation and a constructive relationship with China, before heading into a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Honolulu. Obama is in Hawaii hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and will visit Indonesia on Nov. 17-19 as the first U.S. president to participate in the East Asia Summit.

Iranian Nuclear Program

Obama said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, also attending the forum, agreed that the two nations must be part of a “common response” to keep up pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. Concern about Iran’s actions has increased following a report this week from the International Atomic Energy Agency that presented evidence Iran has been working to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

The Republican candidates in their debate agreed on the importance of stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, through tougher sanctions, aid to opposition parties, covert action against the country’s nuclear scientists, and a military attack as a last resort.

As president, Cain said he would “assist the opposition movement in Iran that is trying to overthrow the regime” -- short of providing weapons.

Romney said that not preventing Iran from making progress toward nuclear weapons is Obama’s “greatest failing” as president. He said he too would work covertly to “encourage” Iranian dissidents. Romney said it would be “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and that he’d order a military strike as a last resort.

Perry called for sanctions on Iran’s central bank, while Gingrich called for secret operations and elimination of Iranian scientists to stop the nuclear developments.

Gingrich said he would back “maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable.” He also pressed for “maximum coordination” with Israel.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net; Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.