U.S. President Barack Obama Sunday bluntly told Republican presidential candidates they were “wrong” in vowing to restore the “waterboarding” interrogation technique critics equate to torture.
In a presidential debate on Saturday, Republicans who want to take Obama’s job in next year’s election criticized the president for outlawing “enhanced interrogations” of terror suspects used by the previous Bush administration, according to AFP.
“They’re wrong. Waterboarding is torture. It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals,” Obama said in a press conference at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in his native Hawaii.
“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.”
“If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.”
“Anyone who has read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture, period,” he added, according to The Associated Press.
At the Republican debate in South Carolina on Saturday, candidates Herman Cain, Representative Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all said they would overturn Obama’s policy.
“If I was president I would be willing to use waterboarding,” said Bachmann, referring to a method of simulated drowning.
Perry agreed. “I don’t see it as torture,” he said. “I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” using the preferred term under Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush.
Shortly after taking office in early 2009, Obama and his new Attorney General Eric Holder described waterboarding -- introduced by the Bush administration during its “war on terror” -- as an act of torture.
The CIA employed the technique, which involves pouring water on someone’s face while he is bound to a board in 2003 on the agency’s first high-value al-Qaeda detainees.
Last year in a detailed timeline of the interrogations, the Senate Intelligence Committee said the CIA first sought to use what Bush described as “enhanced” interrogation techniques including waterboarding in May 2002, after attorney general John Ashcroft concluded that waterboarding was lawful.
Some human rights experts said that Bush's acknowledgement of using waterboarding could theoretically expose him to prosecution, as it is seen by legal experts as a crime, but that such legal action was unlikely.
Obama said in 2009 that operatives who carried out the interrogations would not be prosecuted, saying they acted on orders and were defending their country.