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WASHINGTON - Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland backed away from comments he made suggesting that he supports torturing terrorism suspects, but said intelligence agencies should be given latitude to use "the methods necessary" to get information from detainees.
On Tuesday, the Grantville Republican told a Douglas County Chamber of Commerce luncheon that he "voted for torture" and that "we need to get information out of these people the best way we can," the Douglas County Sentinel reported.
He said Wednesday that he should have "put that another way."
"Maybe I shouldn't have said I voted for torture," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I should have said I voted against the anti-torture bill."
The vote he referred to came last year on an amendment reaffirming the United States' commitment to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The measure passed the House 415-8, with Westmoreland among those opposing it. The U.N. convention defines torture as intentionally inflicting "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental," to obtain information or a confession.
Westmoreland said that definition is too vague and that he believes intelligence professionals deserve more flexibility.
"I think they should use the methods necessary to get the information from the people who know the information," he said. "We're fighting people that don't wear a uniform. They're not from a country. They're not a recognized military. So I don't know that the Geneva Convention even covers them."
Pressed on whether that means he supports torture, he said, "What's torture? Torture is many things to many people ... people have different breaking points."
Asked whether he would support using electric shocks, he said, "Electric shocks are given to people during initiations to different clubs ... Is that torture? I don't know."
Asked about beatings, he said, "Are you talking about tying his hands behind his back and beating him in the head? No, I'm not for that."
Westmoreland criticized the handful of GOP senators, including former Vietnam prisoner of war John McCain, R-Ariz., who are blocking President Bush's effort to reinterpret Geneva Convention protections on detainees. He said he supports the White House position, which calls for a narrower interpretation of the protections, allowing more aggressive interrogation tactics.