DAVENPORT, Iowa – A Rudy Giuliani administration would engage in very aggressive interrogation techniques against terrorists, potentially including waterboarding, the Republican presidential candidate said Wednesday night.
At a town hall meeting in the early caucuses state of Iowa, Giuliani told a questioner that waterboarding — an interrogation technique in which suspects are made to feel like they are drowning — should not be done but added a number of caveats.
"It depends on how it is done; it depends on the circumstances; it depends on who does it. I think the way it has been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. ... I would say if that is the description of it, then I can agree that it shouldn’t be done," he said, adding that he doesn’t necessarily trust the media's description and has yet to learn "what the real description of it is."
Giuliani's stance indicates a subtle softening of his position on interrogation, five months after he declared that he would approve of "every method" one could think of to squeeze information from suspects.
Giuliani’s lack of a clear-cut position on a key national security issue is noteworthy for a candidate who has made the war on terrorism a cornerstone of his campaign and prides himself on being straightforward with voters. He told an audience last week, "You’re going to always know where I stand."
During a debate last May aired on FOX News, Republican candidates were presented with a hypothetical scenario in which the U.S. had been hit by multiple terrorist attacks and the federal government held a suspect who had potential information on the next strike.
When asked at that time if he would specifically authorize the waterboarding of the detainee, Giuliani responded: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of. … I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else."
At the Davenport forum Wednesday, Giuliani told the crowd of about 150 Iowans that "America should never be for torture," and the U.S. needed to ride the "very delicate and very difficult" line between aggressive interrogation and torture. But he added, "When you are dealing with terrorists, you may have to use means that are a little tougher."
The question of whether he would authorize waterboarding also came up during a June 26 appearance at Regent University in which Giuliani was equally skeptical of the technique.
"Waterboarding goes maybe too far — not sure I'd be in favor of waterboarding," he said at the time.
The Bush administration has come under criticism at home and abroad for its use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," but the White House has declined to officially comment on whether it has authorized the waterboarding of suspects or whether the method falls within their definition of torture.
Asked Thursday about his position on waterboarding, Giuliani's chief rival, Mitt Romney, declined to enter the debate.
"I don't think as a presidential candidate it is appropriate for me to weigh in on specific forms of interrogation that our CIA would employ. We have a Military Commissions Act, which describes the type of boundaries that are appropriate for interrogation. We have international law. In circumstances of extreme threat to the nation where we employ what is known as enhanced interrogation techniques we don't describe those techniques ... So I will not enter into detailed discussion into the forms of interrogation and how far it would go and what the lines are. It would best be kept on a confidential basis," Romney said.
Giuliani said Wednesday that people need to be careful about how they define torture and waterboarding, warning that too much "procedure" could lead the president to feel uncomfortable about making a tough decision. He added that the commander in chief needs to be afforded some "leeway."
However, one technique that Giuliani is clear about is the use of sleep deprivation, calling any opposition to the use of that method "plain silly."
"On that theory, I am getting tortured running for president of the United States."