NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Republican front-runners in the 2008 presidential race drew strong criticism from rights groups on Wednesday after they voiced support for extreme interrogation methods and an expansion of the Guantanamo prison in the fight against terrorism.
In remarks at a debate among Republican candidates in South Carolina on Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called for doubling the size of the Guantanamo military prison, while rival Rudy Giuliani said he supported the use of methods like “waterboarding,” which simulates drowning.
Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during the September 11, 2001 attacks, said extreme interrogation techniques would be justified if an attack was being planned.
“I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of,” said Giuliani. “Shouldn’t be torture, but every method they can think of.”
Those methods could include the controversial use of “waterboarding,” he said.
“I would support them in doing that because I can see what can happen when you make a mistake,” he said.
The United States has been widely criticized by human rights groups and some allies for its treatment of terrorism suspects, including holding prisoners at Guantanamo for years without trial and using interrogation methods seen by many as torture.
“It suggests that these guys would ignore American traditions and laws and continue policies that have severely damaged America’s moral authority,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington-based director of Human Rights Watch.
Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “The pandering for votes by advocating human rights violations represents the worst by American politicians.”
Republican Sen. John McCain, who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, came out against the use of extreme interrogation methods, saying the United States would harm itself in the world by agreeing to torture people.
“I think Sen. McCain got it right,” said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “America’s not well served by what’s called enhanced interrogation techniques but what in reality is torture and abuse.”
The White House has said it aims to close the Guantanamo camp, but Romney said during the debate, “My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo.”
He added that terrorism suspects should be kept in the military prison camp to keep them without access to legal counsel.
“I want them in Guantanamo where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons. I want them there,” said Romney.