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Romney, McCain Spar on Waterboarding and Torture at GOP Debate

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At the Republican debate hosted by CNN and YouTube Wednesday night, Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain were asked about waterboarding and torture. Romney refused to say whether the interrogation technique was torture and continued, “I want to make sure that what happened to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed happens to other people who are terrorists.” McCain responded, “I am astonished that…anyone could believe that [waterboarding] is not torture. It’s in violation of the Geneva Conventions.” We play an excerpt of the debate. [includes rush transcript]


  • Excerpt of Republican debate in St. Petersburg, Florida hosted by CNN and YouTube.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday night, CNN and YouTube hosted a Republican debate in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. One of the most heated moments came after a YouTube user asked a question about waterboarding and torture.

    ANDREW JONES: Hello, gentlemen. I’m Andrew, and I’m a college student from Seattle, Washington.

    Recently, Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation. My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?

    ANDERSON COOPER: Governor Romney?

    MITT ROMNEY: Well, he certainly is an expert, and I certainly would want to get his counsel on a matter of this nature, but I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people. I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form.

    ANDERSON COOPER: Is waterboarding torture?

    MITT ROMNEY: And as I just said, as a presidential candidate, I don’t think it’s wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use. And that is something which I would want to receive the counsel not only of Senator McCain, but of a lot of other people. And there are people who, for many, many years, get the information we need to make sure that we protect our country.

    And, by the way, I want to make sure these folks are kept at Guantanamo. I don’t want the people that are carrying out attacks on this country to be brought into our jail system and be given legal representation in this country. I want to make sure that what happened to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed happens to other people who are terrorists. He was captured. He was the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 tragedy. And he turned to his captors, and he said, “I’ll see you in New York with my lawyers.” I presume ACLU lawyers. That’s not what happened. He went to Guantanamo, and he met GIs and CIA interrogators, and that’s just exactly how it ought to be.

    ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain? There were reports Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, Governor, I’m astonished that you haven’t found out what waterboarding is.

    MITT ROMNEY: I know what waterboarding is, Senator.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Then I am astonished that you would think such a — such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our — who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that’s not torture. It’s in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It’s in violation of existing law. And, Governor, let me tell you, if we’re going to get the high ground in this world and we’re going to be America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we’re not going to torture people. We’re not going to do what Pol Pot did. We’re not going to do what’s being done to Burmese monks as we speak. And I suggest that you talk to retired military officers and active-duty military officers like Colin Powell and others, and how in the world anybody could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted by Americans on people who are held in our custody is absolutely beyond me.

    ANDERSON COOPER: Governor Romney, thirty seconds to respond to this.

    MITT ROMNEY: Senator McCain, I appreciate your strong response, and you have the credentials upon which to make that response. I did not say and I do not say that I’m in favor of torture. I am not. I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some thirty-five years. I get that advice by talking to former generals in our military. And I don’t believe —


    MITT ROMNEY: I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me, as a presidential candidate, to lay out all of the issues one by one —


    MITT ROMNEY: — get questioned one by one: Is this torture? Is that torture?

    ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain —

    MITT ROMNEY: That’s something which I’m going to take your and other people’s counsel on.

    ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, thirty seconds to respond.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, then you would have to advocate that we withdraw from the Geneva Conventions, which were for the treatment of people who are held prisoner, whether they be illegal combatants or regular prisoners of war, because it’s clearly the definition of torture. It’s in violation of laws we have passed. And, again, I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that
    life is not 24 and Jack Bauer.

AMY GOODMAN: John McCain and Mitt Romney going at it in the Republican presidential debate that took place last night in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was sponsored by CNN and YouTube.

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