Hillary Clinton Speaks Out Against U.S. Use of Torture

Former secretary of state also discussed unrest following police-related deaths.

ByABC News
December 17, 2014, 1:01 AM
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks after accepting the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award during a ceremony, Dec. 16, 2014 in New York.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks after accepting the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award during a ceremony, Dec. 16, 2014 in New York.
Jason DeCrow/AP Photo

— -- Hillary Clinton spoke out against the use of waterboarding torture during a Tuesday speech in New York City, strongly condemning the tactics for the first time since the recent release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation methods from a decade ago.

"Today we can say again in a loud and clear voice, the United States should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world,” Clinton said.

The former secretary of state, accepting an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, acknowledged that Americans are frustrated by the country’s “division and polarization” that often seems to block progress.

"That should be absolutely clear as a matter of both policy and law, including our international treaty obligations, and if that requires new legislation, then Congress should work with President Obama to quickly enact it and it shouldn't be an issue of partisan politics," Clinton said of eliminating the use of torture techniques.

“America is at our best when our actions match our values,” she said.

Clinton said she was “proud” to be part of the Obama administration noting brutal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding were banned with a 2009 executive order.

"Yes, the threat of terrorism is real and urgent, scores of children were just murdered in Pakistan, beheadings in the Middle East, a siege in Sydney, these tragedies not only break hearts but should steel our resolve and underscore that our values are what set us apart from our adversaries,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s statements follow an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday that found almost six in ten Americans believe the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified. About half of Americans believe the CIA did use torture, while 53 percent think the interrogations produced critical information that could not have been obtained any other way. Just 31 percent of those polled reject this claim, revealing a focus of the recent debate.

Clinton also spoke about recent unrest following police-related deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, telling attendees “black lives matter,” repeating a phrase used by activists after grand juries failed to indict officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

If Kennedy were alive, he would say that it is "possible to keep us safe from terrorism and reduce crime and violence without relying on torture abroad or unnecessary force or excessive incarceration at home," she said.

She made sure to praise both intelligence workers and police officers, saying so many “inspire trust and confidence rather than fear and frustration.”

Clinton wondered what Kennedy – who was assassinated in 1968 – would think of the country if he could see it now. She thought he would celebrate the progress that’s occurred during recent decades, but questioned how he would react to the country’s inequalities.

“What would he say to all those who have lost trust to our government and other institutions, who shudder at images of excessive force, who read reports about torture done in the name of our country, who see too many representatives in Washington quick to protect a big bank from regulation but slow to take action to help working families facing every greater pressure?” Clinton asked.