Senators Hesitant to Use Torture, Even to Find al Qaeda Bomb

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Senators were hesitant Thursday to align themselves with former President Bill Clinton, who last year told NBC's "Meet The Press" anchor Tim Russert that torture would be an acceptable way to get time-sensitive information from known terrorists.

On Sept. 24, 2006, Clinton posed a scenario to Russert in which "we get lucky, we get the number three guy in al Qaeda, and we know there's a big bomb going off in America in three days and we know this guy knows where it is. Don't we have the right and the responsibility to beat it out of him?"

"And I think, you know, if that circumstance comes up - we all know what we'd do to keep our country from going through another 9/11, if we could," Clinton said. "But to - but to claim in advance the right to do this whenever someone takes a notion to engage in conduct that plainly violates the Geneva Convention, that, I think, is a mistake."

Russert posed the same scenario to Democratic presidential hopefuls at the Sept. 26, 2007 debate. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware all said it should be the policy of the United States to not engage in torture.

Cybercast News Service
hit Capitol Hill Thursday to ask senators if they agreed with the former Democratic president or with their current colleagues. All - Republicans and Democrats - were hesitant to openly condone the use of torture even in extreme cases.

"Would you support using torture for information if al Qaeda planted a bomb in the U.S.?"

In response to a similar question posed by another news organization, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that "we live in the 21st century, not during the years of the Inquisition, 1492, and that's very difficult for this great country, this great democracy, this beacon of liberty to have us defending interrogation techniques that deal with torture. It's out of the question, it's wrong, and we have to get to the bottom of it." (Listen to his full statement)

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to "get into the hypotheticals there" but added that "there's a way to do all of this by rule of law." (Listen to his full statement)

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said torture is "one of those things where you can't create exceptions, because it ends up creating the whole probability that we get back into a torture syndrome, and I just don't, I don't think it makes sense." (Listen to his full statement)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that compromising on torture would be "to the detriment of our reputation as a nation and to the safety and security of our troops. In terms of specific instances such as the ones that were raised in that debate, I'll just tell you the decision will be made on each one of those in those circumstances, but in terms of the policy of this country, no, we don't compromise." (Listen to his full statement)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he would not support torture "because it's illegal. And it, we, not only is it illegal, it compromises America's values, America's ability to be an international leader on human rights issues. So I'm very much opposed to the use of torture, any purpose of torture." (Listen to his full statement)

Some Republicans were equally opposed to the use of torture. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) told Cybercast News Service he is "categorically opposed to torture. I don't think it's possible to answer any question beyond that in the abstract." (Listen to his full statement)

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said that "we have to define very carefully what torture is" but suggested she might be open to a technique "that is not harmful to the person's health." (Listen to her full statement)

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