March 9th, 2008
03:04 PM ET
15 years ago

Obama, Clinton campaign spar over torture

(CNN) - Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded Sunday to charges from rival Barack Obama that the New York senator “flip-flopped” on the issue of torture during her presidential campaign, saying she held strong positions against its use by government officials.

When President Bush vetoed a bill Saturday that would have prohibited the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques, Obama used the occasion to criticize his Democratic presidential opponent.

"We need a Commander in Chief who has never wavered on whether or not it is acceptable for America to torture, because it is never acceptable,” said Obama. “While I have consistently opposed torture, in the course of this primary campaign Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped from her past position of tolerating torture. …

“When I am president, the American people and the world will be able to trust that I will outlaw torture, because unlike Senator Clinton I have never made an exception for torture and I never will."

Obama was making a reference to Clinton’s decision late last year to rule out any use of these techniques in interrogations, after a meting with a group of retired generals who opposed their use. Earlier, Clinton had said they might be an option if authorities suspected their use might help prevent an imminent attack – a position that was also held by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The Clinton campaign responded with a statement that said her “strong position opposing torture” had led to her endorsement by Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote the official report on the military’s Abu Ghraib scandal.

The release also included an excerpt of a recent letter Senator Clinton sent to President Bush in which she said strong opposition to torture was essential.

“I believe, as do the military leaders I have consulted, that any sign of wavering on this issue by the Commander-in-Chief ‘will drop down the chain of command like a stone, and the rare exception will fast become the rule,’” she wrote.

–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand

soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. An

    What? did the clinton campaign respond to an attack from obama with just facts, void of any anger?? Thank you Hillary! Hopefully this will lead to these two candidates running on just facts an issues.

    If not Obama then Hillary 2008 (the voice of a true democrat)

    March 9, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. Cris in Florida

    Is this all you have Obama? and why are you night fighting for our vote in FLORIDA? Because you did not win our delegetes in Florida so we don't count?? I will never vote for you and never will.

    March 9, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  3. Kathy

    It is my opinion that Hillary and Barak should do what's best for the Democratic Party. At this point they need to agree to give the nod to Barak for democratic nominee with Hillary as Vice President. The momentum can then forge ahead and get the Republicans out of the White House, there are no guarantees that either one can defeat Mccain on their own and they need to combine their resources and focus on winning the Presidency.

    March 9, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  4. Jeff - Illinois

    There is no way torture should be legal under US Law. If, through torture, the CIA can prevent an imminent attack, then the CIA should go ahead and torture. If its important enough to do, its worth an agent risking taking the fall if things go bad. We can't send the international message that we condone torture.

    Torture is normally only condoned by world leaders whom we would risk thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in order to unseat. Let's leave the torture covert.

    March 9, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  5. Andy

    While Obama is criticizing his opponent, Hillary takes action to oppose President Bush's veto. Learn Obama, learn because all you know now is to go on the campaign trail and give speeches, criticize everyone and everything, and make empty promises.

    Yeah sure, he consistently opposed torture as he opposed the Iraq war for which he actually has continuously supported funding. Twisted logic a la Obama on both issues.

    March 9, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  6. rb

    It looks like Obama is a great supporter of media manipulation.

    Go Hillary!

    March 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. Maisie08

    Clinton only gets strong on torture when the political winds change and it becomes a campaign issue–no more flip-flopping Hillary. Stand up against torture from the get-go instead of wavering and half-heartedness.

    March 9, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |


    March 9, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  9. Darryl

    We must leader in the free world and not allow such action to take place I am retired military personnel this act endorse by President Bush should not be allowed to continue. This send the wrong message to the the rest of the free world. We need to change the course and bebuild relationship with the rest of the world and still at the same time protect ourselves. We have the technology .

    Now Hillary may just say continue with the Bush doctorine I say stop it now..

    March 9, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  10. M. S. Indiana

    Looks like the Clinton's wanna keep torture open, so she can use it on her own people...

    March 9, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  11. joanne

    I find it amazing that a person in this country cannot change their point of view on issues even when it is their job to help shape our gov't policy. Is Obama actually suggesting that once he has made up his mind on an issue he will be so inmflexible that given new input he would not change his mind? I don't want that kind of president. I also don't want a candidate who claims the othere is secretive as if he is not. I am not so concerned about Hilary's tax returns as I am about what Michelle Obama wrote in her thesis that now has to be under lock and key.

    March 9, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  12. cc

    I can't believe this is even a debate in the USA.

    If you have to ask "is this torture", it is.

    I sure don't want any of our people in uniform subjected to any of these "techniques".

    March 9, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  13. Roy

    Obama says "While I have consistently opposed torture....." . He also says "I have consistently opposed the war in Irak...", Is his present position in American politics weak? He has never introduced CONCRETE PROPOSALS how to end the war/torture as far as I know. Is he always opposing and talking about difficult matters – not trying to act himself as a politician? European

    March 9, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  14. OhioVoter

    I think that this is another example of OHB being unrealistic. I am not in anyway condoning systematic torture, including waterboarding. But, I must admit, I've seen "24." As Jack Bauer has shown, sometimes a little torture goes a long way. OHB is pandering and trying to draw false differences between HRC and himself.

    If OHB is unwilling to consider that torture may be necessary - then I question whether he is capable of protecting America from imminent threats.

    March 9, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  15. Robert

    There goes Obama twisting Hillary's words again! Can you say "REJECT" or "DENOUNCE"? Just because Obama can use vague words to mean whatever it is suitable to benefit himself doesn't mean that others are doing the same!

    March 9, 2008 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  16. Pia

    Can we trust anything Hillary Clinton says? Her lies, deceit and flip flopping will no longer be of importance since she is now on her way out thanks to the smart voters who said NO to her. No Madam president. I suggest another profession where she can be the Madam.

    Next agenda for the American people- to help her lose her NY senate seat as well. Do the right thing NY state.

    March 9, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  17. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Enough of Hillary's lies. Hillary lies so much she doesn't know the truth from a lie. Hillary is very good at throwing a stone then hiding her hand and that's exactly what she'll do if she were Commander in Chief, remember WMD's that weren't there, she's the making of the same administration.

    March 9, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  18. Ted in Chicago

    I am surprised BO knew the position of HRC - per the NYT cover story today (and we are all liberal DEMS on BO and HRC sides and we give credit to the NYT) -BO was not there enough to know

    I guess his staff gave him a note ....

    Credit to Obama though – he finally is starting to fight his own battles
    vs using fliers – Axelrod and female subordinates and advisers.

    Pesonally I think our US position must be never to torture – never never never is our policy and law. Then I recognize that a General or a high up at the CIA or the Pres or VP could on an exception basis give the green light for some form of torture -- if they felt it would help the defense of this nation (knowing it usually does not work). That is executive leeway – – but if they break the law then they should face the music of the DPJ or Congress – and if say its a WH person face possible impeachment and even jail

    So policy is never – reality is reality – some one over the next twenty years will break the rule and may well save lives – but it can not be policy – even the exception can not be policy – and anyone for whatever reason authorizing some form of torture should face the wrath of the DOJ or Congress.

    March 9, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  19. last dog

    Now we are going to see what Obama is made of. Here is just one example, there will be more. It is going to be very difficult to challenge Clinton on national security - everytime he goes after her there, another general is going to pop up in her defense. Mr. Peace & Love is going to have to think of something else. He's been hanging out with Teddy Kennedy and thinks he's the annointed one, but I have a feeling Jack would be voting for Hillary. In November, what will the median voting age be? That is what the superdelegates are thinking about now.

    March 9, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  20. Kat, Huntington, West Virginia

    Wrong again Barack! Keep trying. The generals and other military experts that back Hillary support her for a reason, because she is right, decisive and experienced. Stay with what you know, nice speeches.
    Hillary 08!

    March 9, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  21. Wake Up America

    Americans need to wake up before it is too late! It is okay to change your mind on an issue. If we are being honest with ourselves, there are instances in which we all have changed our mind on a political issue. Our Independents reserve that right every 4 years. The only reason Obama may look so "unwavering" to you "new comers" in his deicision making is because he has not been around long enough, that's scary. Be realistic, he is just another politician and in time he too will show his true political side. Do you really think we should put our country in the hands of a man with only 4 years as an Illinois Senator. Lets look at what he has accomplished as a senator.... When he was there to vote, highest absenteeism of all three candidates, he is always playing it safe. 130 times as Senator he did not/would not pick a side. Do you think he was being "primed" to run for the presidency? Hum... If he does not pick a side, he can wait to see what we the people want and then say he never wavered in his deicision making when in fact he made no decision at all. Do your homework America, it is unthinkable that we would elect a democratic nominee or the President without doing some research may be surprised.

    March 9, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  22. David Minneapolis

    Not unlike the question of NAFTA, which neither Obama or Clinton is going to change, no president is going to allow Americans to be harmed on American soil without doing whatever they can to get the information to protect them, period.

    They are playing politics. They will both allow torture in limited situations if it is deemed necessary. They will both support free trade agreements wherever and whenever they can get them with lots of 'labor and environmental' standards attached (read labor and liberal voters support).

    With Obama and Clinton the question is whether or not you want to elect someone who will eventually be corrupted by power or someone who already has been.

    March 9, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  23. Elizabeth

    She will say whatever the public opinion is, and she changes with the wind; Will the real Hillary please come forward or did we see who you really are in Ohio!

    American citizens, I urge you, take a look at how these campaigns have been managed. Hillary, I, as a woman, will not allow you to manipulate this electoral process. And, as a woman, did not vote for you. You make women look like victims.

    March 9, 2008 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  24. Anthony

    I'm sorry, but if people never changed their opinions, racism would still be prevalent, torture would be legal, the Whig party would still be around, etc. etc. I would hate for my political representative to hold their beliefs as unchangeable and entirely correct. So what if Hillary has changed her position. I believe that the president of the United States should be open to changing their positions on key issues, especially if the American people strongly believe something different.

    March 9, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  25. stacy

    Hillary is quite eloquent with words, uses very intelligent language
    in all that she does, rather than just two words, change and hope every other sentence.

    March 9, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
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