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In His Words: Giuliani on Torture

  • “I have known every American president since Gerald Ford.
  • America should not stand for torture, America should not allow torture.
  • I knew Richard Nixon, but before he was president.
  • I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States.
  • Ms. Gustitus said: “He said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.”

The Republican candidate expounds on his views at a town hall meeting in Iowa.

@ggreenwald: Giuliani once said: whether waterboarding is a war crime depends on *who does it* (ie OK for US, not for Them)

DAVENPORT, Iowa — At a town hall meeting here last night, Rudolph W. Giuliani expanded upon his views of torture. Here is a transcript of the exchange.

Linda Gustitus, who is the president of a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, began her question by saying that President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey (who happens to be an old friend of Mr. Giuliani’s) had “fudged” on the question of whether waterboarding is toture.

“I wanted to ask you two questions,’’ she said. “One, do you think waterboarding is torture? And two, do you think the president can order something like waterboarding even though it’s against U.S. and international law?’’

Mr. Giuliani responded: “O.K. First of all, I don’t believe the attorney general designate in any way was unclear on torture. I think Democrats said that; I don’t think he was.’’

Ms. Gustitus said: “He said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.”

Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it’s been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that’s the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn’t be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I’ve learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don’t always describe it accurately.”


“If I can’t figure out that there’s been a significant media bias against this war, then I shouldn’t be running for president of the United States.”


“Sometimes they describe it accurately. Sometimes they exaggerate it. So I’d have to see what they really are doing, not the way some of these liberal newspapers have exaggerated it.”

“Now, on the question of torture. We should not torture. America should not stand for torture, America should not allow torture. But America should engage in aggressive questioning of Islamic terrorists who are arrested or who are apprehended. Because if we don’t we leave ourselves open to significant attack.”

“And the line between the two is very delicate and very difficult. But we can’t abandon aggressive questioning of people who are intent on coming here to kill us. Or killing us overseas. I think that that’s the point that the attorney general designate was trying to make.”

“And the powers of the president are pretty significant in protecting the national security of the United States. They always have been. So I think what he was also trying to do was protect the powers of the United States to deal with unforeseen circumstances like the hypothetical we were asked during one debate – I’ve forgotten which one: If there was a terrorist attack on an American city, and it was clear that there were all going to be additional attacks, some of them were going to be nuclear, and they were planned for the next couple of days and one of the people involved in it was arrested, and the head of the C.I.A. came to you and said we have to do certain things to get the information from him, would you authorize it? And I think most of us answered it, yes we would, we would authorize doing whatever we thought was the most effective to get that information.”

“The president has to have that kind of leeway. We’ve got to trust our president well enough to allow that. If we surround this so much with procedure, we’re going to have some unforeseen circumstance in which a president’s not going to feel comfortable making the right decision, particularly if you have the wrong person there. “

“So I think America should never be for torture. America should be against torture. It violates the Geneva Convention. Certainly when we’re dealing with armed combatants, we shouldn’t get near anything like that. There is a distinction, sometimes, when you’re dealing with terrorists. You may have to use means that are a little tougher.”

“And I see, when the Democrats are talking about torture, they’re not just talking about even this definition of waterboarding, which again, if you look at the liberal media and you look at the way they describe it, you could say it was torture and you shouldn’t do it. But they talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly. That’s silly.’’

“That comes from people who have never investigated a real criminal case, never investigated organized crime. You know how I put hundreds of Mafia people in jail? And I helped to put thousands in Italy in jail? You know how I did it? I did it by electronic surveillance and aggressive questioning. None of them wanted to give me the information. They didn’t walk into my office and say, ‘I want to tell you about all of those Mafia murders…”

“They got ‘em because we arrested them, we got very significant charges on them, and we questioned them for long, long periods of time. With very aggressive techniques. Never ever tortured anybody. I can tell you that. Would never allow it. Don’t know of any situation in which the F.B.I. did it.’’

“And then, please have a better view of the men and women who serve you in law enforcement and in the intelligence services.’’


‘’I know the liberal media paints them like, you know – These are the good guys, not the bad guys. They really are. I mean these are the people who put their lives at risk to protect you and me. These are people of scruples, honor, decency. They don’t want to torture anybody. They have no desire to harm anybody. What they are dealing with sometimes are these enormously difficult life and death situations, in which there is a possibility of getting information about a group of troops that are going to be killed, and they’re going to have to go tell their mothers and fathers that they were killed and there’s a chance maybe of stopping it. Or there are these – I mean, suppose some of the people who were going to do Sept. 11 had been captured beforehand. We sure as heck would want some very aggressive questioning to find out what they knew.’’

“So let’s be careful on how we define this. And, sure we should be against torture. But we should not be against aggressive questioning. And the line between the two is going to require some really difficult decisions about drawing it and kind of trusting each other with the discretion for the president to make decisions about what has to be done in the interests of the American people.’’

“I have known every American president since Gerald Ford. I knew Richard Nixon, but before he was president. I met him, I didn’t know him. I can’t say I knew Richard Nixon. But I’ve known every American president since Gerald Ford. Some Republicans, some Democrats. I can’t think of a one that would ever want to see somebody tortured. Also can’t think of a one that wouldn’t have the courage to make some tough decisions to protect the lives of the American people. And that’s the kind of person you have to have as president of the United States.’’

In His Words: Giuliani on Torture