September 27th, 2007
03:38 PM ET
12 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. karen, orlando, fl

    Hey Tom in Mass.
    I'll try and give you a response fom a rational Democrat. Although I haven't made up my mind which candidate I will support yet,there are a lot of things about HRC that I don't agree with. My dad is a retired navy seal commander and needless to say we do not share the same political views but we've had many discussions about the war and how we could and should get out of it. My dad took his responsibility over his men very seriously and his motto has always been 'you don't put your men in the line of fire unless you absolutely have to' and I will never believe that we absulutely had to in Iraq. The fact is that we are there and although many American's want us out I don' believe it's that simple, we have destabilized the region and that could have dire consequences for us later.I know that Hillary voted for the war and I have a big problem with the fact taht she is so critical of a war that she voted for. I really don't think that us average American's will ever truly know the real reasons that we went to Iraq, I don't think it was for WMD's and it's certainly not for the sole purpose of spreading freedom and democracy (but that sure sounds good for PR purposes), I don't even think it was for oil since we haven't seen a drop in prices and we're not using the oil reserves to help pay for the war. So even though I'm not a fan of Bush and I've always been against the war I will admit that there may be more to our reasons for being there that we just don't know about. a Democrat I was proud that we took control of Congress in November but disappointed in the waivering back and forth of the candidates...take a stand and stick with it!!! Hillary seems to be doing a lot of pandering and we're smart enough to see through that.

    To recap for all of you Republicans:
    Democrats do not hate America nor do we wish to see us fail in Iraq. We're not socialist or communist and we don't believe that government is responsible for solving all of our problems. Remember that there are extreme nut jobs on both sides of the aisle, most of us live somewhere comfortably in the middle.

    September 28, 2007 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  2. Chris, Middletown, CT

    There must a book...or pamphlet thats handed out at Hillary supporters conventions – "heres what to say when we flip/flop" – and the classic – "if anyone brings up all Bills infidelities" – my have an excuse for everything....I wonder what the excuse will be when she loses..."the Republicans used the supreme court to make us lose...." – or the classic "they disenfranchised all the minority voters...they were fearful to come out of their houses" – you are a sad group in a moron parade

    September 28, 2007 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  3. demwit

    "is that there is very little evidence that it works.”

    Thats False.

    Just ask our prisoners of war what information they revealed when being tortured. Or CNN could simply ask John McCain what he spilled while being tortured. Everything was his last response..

    Its a well known fact that most people can not withstand these torture techniques. We fool ourselves to think otherwise.

    September 28, 2007 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  4. JB Boston MA


    She is saying that she is not taking torture off the table. She is keeping it an option. Dems freaked on Bush when he said this. Why aren't you all freaking on Hillary.

    Several Hillary fans are saying "ya she is right, torture shouldn't be an option"

    That is in direct contrast to what she is saying here!!!!!!!

    September 28, 2007 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  5. Tonto

    Billary speak with forked tongue.

    September 28, 2007 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  6. Dale, El Paso, TX

    Yes, a shifty one she is!

    September 28, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. James, Phoenix AZ

    Laurinda – NY,

    You wrote,
    "JAMES FROM AZ…No wonder your thinking is so screwed up. Fox is for the Republicans. They fill your head with all kinds of nonsense and then you go away thinking that you you are on to something. I can't stand O'Reilly, he is a scatter brain. Most people can not make heads or tails about what he is talking about. If I were you, I would stick with CNN and be well informed."

    Um Laurinda – Chris Matthews is on MSNBC not Fox. Perhaps IF you had watched the debate and analysis – you would have known this.

    September 28, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. james h, san francisco, ca

    hey james in az,
    in the tradition of comments that make no sense, why did you think that Clinton's vote on determining Iran's military a "terrorist" organization has anything to do with her becoming more "liberal" on torture (meaning she's moving away from seeing even an exceptional need for it)? Those are two separate issues.

    If you're trying to make the case that Clinton is moving to the political middle, the evidence is contradictory at best. Indeed, for all of her career as an elected official, she's been in the middle on military issues.

    September 28, 2007 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  9. ABH (Anyone But Hillary)

    She tortures me. Really.

    September 28, 2007 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  10. Willy, Chesapeake

    "... the term "democrat" originated as an epithet and referred to 'one who panders to the crude and mindless whims of the masses.'"

    from the book by Joseph J. Ellis called "Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation

    September 29, 2007 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  11. James, Phoenix AZ (the real one)

    "Why ISN'T she able to change her mind? That is what makes the Democrats the best choice. Better than the bull-headed administration we have now.

    Posted By James, Phoenix AZ : September 29, 2007 9:55 am "

    – – – – – –

    "James in Pheonix" – she can flip-flop all day long. Most of us expect that from her (voted for the war – against it now, calls for troop withdrawals but can't answer a direct question when SHE would have them out, says no to torture – except if/when SHE thinks it's ok, etc etc).

    At LEAST with Bush – you know where this guy stands. You may not like it but he has been consistent in his pursuit of terrorists and regimes that openly support them.

    September 29, 2007 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
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