September 27th, 2007
03:38 PM ET
11 years ago

Clinton shifts position on torture policy

Has Clinton shifted her position on torture policy?

(CNN) - Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, seems to have changed her position on whether a presidential exception should be allowed to use torture to prevent an imminent terror attack.

There was a difference between her answer Wednesday night in the New Hampshire debate where she said “it cannot be American policy, period,” and comments she made in an interview last October.

The campaign said the change is not significant. Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, said, “Upon reflection and after meeting with former generals and others, Sen. Clinton does not believe that we should be making narrow exceptions to this policy based on hypothetical scenarios.”

In the debate Wednesday night, moderator Tim Russert asked Clinton, "This is the number three man in al Qaeda. We know there's a bomb about to go off, and we have three days, and we know this guy knows where it is. Should there be a presidential exception to allow torture in that kind of situation?"

She answered, “As a matter of policy, it cannot be American policy, period. I met with those same three- and four-star retired generals, and their principal point - in addition to the values that are so important for our country to exhibit - is that there is very little evidence that it works.”

"Now, there are a lot of other things that we need to be doing that I wish we were: better intelligence; making, you know, our country better respected around the world; working to have more allies," she added. "But these hypotheticals are very dangerous because they open a great big hole in what should be an attitude that our country and our president takes toward the appropriate treatment of everyone."

But last October, she was asked about a presidential exception while talking to the New York Daily News editorial board.

She told the paper, "I have said that those are very rare but if they occur, there has to be some lawful authority for pursuing that. And, again, I think the president has to take some responsibility. There has to be some check and balance, some reporting. I don't mind if it is some reporting within a top secret context. But that shouldn't be the tail that wags the dog, that should be the exception to the rule. And that if we deviate in the first instance from very disciplined interrogation methods, that are clearly lined out, and that have validation evaluation that goes forward.”

Clinton expressed doubts about the practice overall, as she did in the debate, telling the Daily News that day, “In my talking to interrogators from CIA, FBI, military backgrounds, they are very skeptical about the utility of severity. They say, ‘Look, the way you get good information, you bribe people."

"You bribe their families. You offer to move them to a place of their dreams. You create a bond so that they feel some connection to you," she added. "But that takes time. And so very often, you know people feel so very much under the gun they don't want to take the time to get the vaild information so they use extraordinary means, and they get junk that doesn't lead anywhere and basically not useful.”

- CNN Political Desk Editor Steve Brusk

Filed under: Hillary Clinton
soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. Dave Malone - Red Springs, KY

    This is a meaningless line of questioning, pre-election, anyway. The President can always decide to make a unilateral decision, called an Executive Order, which is followed first, and must be proven to be illegal, un-Constitutional, etc. later. He or she assumes the responsibility, if the act is determined to be illegal, including all penalties.

    Bush, for example, violated multiple Amendments with his Patriot Act, yet it stands as legal now, because the Supreme Court has been silent on it, and the Congress endorsed it.

    I agree with Jeff from Rochester- Hillary's a colossal dummy with minimal leadership qualities at best.

    September 27, 2007 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  2. Rodney Dallas TX

    I don't know James, Bush has been yanking all the repubs around like puppets on a string. How does it feel?

    September 27, 2007 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  3. Rick D., DeLand, FL

    "The campaign said the change is not significant?" Ah, of course, there's no significance in whether or not the president authorizes violent breaches of international human rights. Why oh why are my fellow Democrats falling head-over-heels over this Janus-faced "centrist?"

    September 27, 2007 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  4. monica, rochester new york

    It's not good for the democratic process for HRC to refuse to answer questions with specifics. Obama said recently he "may not be as good as she is at playing the political game, he's just interested in trying to end the game playing." That's why he answers every question as honestly and as forthright as he can. You may or may not like what he says every time but you certainly know where he stands and how he thinks through and processes information. He's about honesty and candor. That's the kind of leader we need to build back our respect around the world and pull together our divided house. HRC seems to place less value on doing/saying what's right, and more value on simply doing what she hopes wins, by any means necessary. I'm amazed that so many democrats don't have alarm bells going off in their heads, to warn of the potential danger she represents, with the politics as usual. But then again, I was floored by how many people voted for Bush the second time. So I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. It's too bad though.

    September 27, 2007 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  5. RightyTighty

    Bush heavy! Hmmm...

    September 27, 2007 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  6. Don F, Mount Prospect, Illinois

    I would like to thank the candidates for giving me a heads up on how they would treat captured terrorists with nucelar secrets. I now know I have only until January of 2009 to relocate to a rural area to avoid a big city nuke set off by Al Qaeda or Hezbollah.

    Didn't these candidates learn from Michael (no death penalty even if you rape and murder my wife) Dukakis in 1988?

    September 27, 2007 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  7. Marshal Phillips, Wichita, Kansas

    Sen Clinton gave a reasoned response based on her consultations with military personnel.
    Hillary bashers will say anything nasty no matter what this presidential candidate says.
    My wife and I, recovering republicans,
    are listening to what she actually says rather than what her detractors spin is.
    Why is everyone piling on this women?
    Where is Maggie Thatcher or Golda Meier when we need them?

    September 27, 2007 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  8. Tom, AlBUQUERQUE, N


    September 27, 2007 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. Mhm

    What works, works. Bribing, among other things do, torture just forces someone to give a response, will that response always be truthful or even helpful? Not at all.

    Loved how the moderator tried to one up her by telling her it was Bill Clinton's opinion and she turned it around and solidified the point that she is her own person. It was easily the best moment of the debate.

    There is a reason she has it in the bag, its because shes the most inteligent, experienced and qualified canditite for the job. Can't wait for her election.

    September 27, 2007 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  10. Lynn

    You really have to respect the first woman, in American history, who made it this far in a run for presidency. Even if she is not your personal top pick, you have to see that it takes strength and smarts to make it this far, playing a man's game and respect her for that. Second, no matter who gets elected in '08, it will be a step up from Bush. IS this torture issues really what one basis their vote on? That is actually more amazingly stupid than basing it on the abortion issue. Yes, she is being a politician. Welcome to America...this is what they do.

    September 27, 2007 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  11. Tom, AlBUQUERQUE, NM

    Hillary Clinton's ascendency to the Presidency is a fait accompli. She is right on all the issues, including her stance against torture. We can't become the monsters we claim to oppose.Torture is morally wrong..period.

    September 27, 2007 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  12. Becky, Euless, TX

    This Mrs Clinton is always shifting her position, I am shifting from her, too!! I don't want a shifting President

    September 27, 2007 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  13. JPS. Miami, FL

    I knew it! I knew Hillary was a harda## .

    September 27, 2007 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  14. Tricia M Charlottetown PEI

    To James and Jeff:

    Well, there's one big thing Hillary has going for her in my view.

    You can apothecate, guessulate, speculate and pontifficate with all the Chris Matthews of the world on what Hillary is going, or is not ging to do. Or on whether Hillary is a hypocrit, a flip flopper or down right truthful.

    But the biggest thing Hillary has going for her is – that WE ALL KNOW what George Bush and his Republicans are and are not. And we all know that nothing Hillary will do or will not do will ever come close to George's level of failure.

    And all Republican Candidates are Bush Clones so I'd say she has it in the bag.

    September 27, 2007 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  15. Cindy, Kissimmee Florida

    The use of torture is barbaric and should not be tolerated in this country for any reason!

    September 27, 2007 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  16. dawn -- Gaithersburg, MD.

    I don't see the contradiction. The ticking time bomb scenario is a law school hypothetical, not something that happens in real life. In real life, if you know the terrorist's identity and position in Al Quaeda, that there is a bomb, and when it's going off, then you also have a good idea where the bomb is. No policy is necessary for such a rare occurrence, as Sen. Clinton doubtless realized after indulging a number of these silly hypotheticals.

    And Jeff in Rochester:

    I understand that some people hate Sen. Clinton, but I always assumed that there was SOME rational basis for this. I begin to doubt.
    You state that she's an "idiot" who would lie and torture anyway. Why is that idiotic? It seems more Machiavellian to me.
    More important, even if I assume that she'd actually follow through on her "offer" to move the terrorist to the retirement villa of his dreams, i.e., that she isn't just lying to HIM, what's your basis for thinking that she'd arbitrarily follow that option rather than the first one? In other words, what is there about her character or goals that make you think she's just as likely to do one OR the other?
    You may, of course, dislike Sen. Clinton for any reason whatsoever, but spewing baseless and frankly incomprehensible denunciations is unlikely to convince others that your disaffection is rooted in reality.

    September 27, 2007 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  17. james h, san francisco, ca

    hey james in phoenix, anyone's free to like or dislike clinton. but, your comment here doesn't make any sense.

    clinton's position on torture is turning MORE liberal, not less. earlier she wanted to leave room for exceptional cases. now, she's saying there is no need for that exception because torture isn't even effective anyway, according to military top brass.

    it's distressing to see people just spew their opinions without even understanding the arguments.

    and jeff, what makes you think torture is so effective? just a hunch?

    did you read the article? military experts suggest bribing family members and others nearby, not the actual criminals themselves. there's a huge difference. the interrogation strategies that are most effect for criminals most certainly do not involve tickets to paradise, but they do involve making them feel like they have a confidant. The New Yorker had a great article about this issue, recently.

    September 27, 2007 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  18. Jason, Il

    hahaha.. flip flopper

    September 27, 2007 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  19. Steve

    "I like the "bribe them" idea better. "Hey Mr. Terrorist, we'll give you ten million dollars if you tell us where you and your friends hid that nuclear weapon…"

    Hey, Hypocrite: is this like sending Iran ARMS FOR HOSTAGES? You Republican liar. Blow it out your ear.

    "What a crock. This woman is an idiot..."

    Oh, Hillary is smarter than most people, obviously including you.

    "...who will either lie to us and tell us she is against torture but do it anyway."

    You mean, like Gonzales, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld already have?

    "...Or, not torture, give the guy a few million and a ticket to paradise."

    Your mom's calling. Get off her computer, and wipe that spittle off her keyboard, sonny boy.

    September 27, 2007 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  20. Randall Seefeldt, Indianapolis, Indiana

    Ms. Clinton has certainly matured into a true politician: when asked a probing question, she talks. And talks. And then talks some more. (Witness her answer to the New York Daily News editorial board's question on a presidential exception for torture.)

    On my college essay exams, the good Dr. Woodruff would draw a huge red spiral over any of my answers that read like virtually all of Hillary's.

    His point? It's not too hard to tell when someone is winging it, hoping that if they just put enough words out there, their audience will think they've answered the question.

    "The most intelligent woman in America"? Maybe just the most verbose. Or is that the same nowadays? It seems to be working for her.

    September 27, 2007 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  21. sonya, atlanta,ga

    Hillary is right on issues? We don't know what she stands for. People must be drinking the Jim Jones koolaid.

    September 27, 2007 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  22. Greg, Phoenix, AZ

    No way!

    Hillary completely contradicted herself and then just tried to giggle her way through an incomprehensible retort?

    Couldn't be true!

    September 27, 2007 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  23. James, Phoenix AZ

    All you Hillpraisers – if you think she is lock-step in tune with your point of view... great. I just seemed to be hearing lots of whining for folks on the left. Whining about:

    1. Getting out of Iraq (She won't commit but will grand stand in public and call General Petreaus a liar).

    2. Whining about "special interests" money and how it has bought-and-paid for our politicians (Hillary supports special interest donations).

    3. Whining about Gay marriage (Hillary is against gay marriage).

    4. Candidates that flip-flop (Hillary voted FOR the war, now is against it, this article talks of her shifting policies on torture, etc)

    5. Needing a fresh start (Bush – Clinton – Bush – now Clinton??)

    If ever there has been a corination of a candidate – Hillary was it! Aparently the only RACE going on with the Democrat party is for the VP job.

    Oh and by the way... Bush, Rove, and the conservatives thank you. They could not have ochestrated this arrangement any better. Had the democrat candidates been more direct with Hillary, she could have built a degree of immunity from the forth coming attacks from the right. However, since no candidate DARE say anything to seriously challenge her, the public will get the rude awakening of who Hillary really is.

    September 27, 2007 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  24. James, Phoenix AZ

    James – SF

    You said, "clinton's position on torture is turning MORE liberal, not less"

    Uh huh... so you anti-war folks then are quite happy Hillary voted to deem Iran's military as a "terrorist" organization – essentially giving President Bush a green light on Iran?

    September 27, 2007 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  25. pl. at the UN for a while.

    I totally agree with the observation that Ms Rodham Clinton has the Dem nomination under control, and it is now time to think nationally and of Repubs.
    What kind of childish question was that anyway?

    September 27, 2007 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
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