John McCain hits GOP hopefuls over waterboarding

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday Oct. 13, 2011, to discuss the introduction of a Republican alternative jobs bill. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Republican Sen. John McCain criticized statements by some of the 2012 Republican nominees for president Monday, tweeting, "Very disappointed by statements at SC GOP debate supporting waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture."  

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who was tortured while he was a prisoner of war, was referencing comments at the CBS News/National Journal debate on Nov. 12, when GOP candidates Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann stated that they were in favor of using waterboarding.

"I don't see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique," Cain said.

"If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country, and I -- and I also would like to say that today, under Barack Obama, he is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA," Bachmann said.

Fellow presidential aspirants Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman expressed opposition to waterboarding. "It's illegal under international law and under our law. It's also immoral, and it's also very impractical. There's no evidence that you really get reliable evidence," Paul said.

"We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets, when we torture," Huntsman added.

As the Washington Post notes, Mitt Romney did not discuss the issue during the debate, but his campaign says the former Massachusetts governor does not see waterboarding as torture. Romney clashed with McCain over the issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

President Obama, meanwhile, broke with his general policy not to comment on the GOP contenders' statements to criticize waterboarding in the wake of the debate.

Mr. Obama, who has banned waterboarding, responded to a question about the Cain and Bachmann view on waterboarding at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit press conference in Hawaii Sunday. 

"They're wrong. Waterboarding is torture," he said. "It's contrary to America's traditions. It's contrary to our ideals. That's not who we are. That's not how we operate. We don't need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice."

Bachmann shot back on Monday: "Well, I think the president is clearly wrong."

CBS News/New York Times polling in 2009 found seven in ten Americans view waterboarding as torture, though they were split on whether it could be justified.

Transcript of the debate

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  • Dan Farber On Twitter»

    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.

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