By John J. Monahan
BOSTON — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott P. Brown expanded his defense of waterboarding as an interrogation technique this morning in a live radio debate, while his Democratic opponent Martha Coakley criticized his ad comparing himself to JFK, saying, “He is really more like Bush-Cheney.”
While the two major party candidates sparred on the economy, health care, war and terrorism during the one-hour debate on WTKK-FM that was streamed on the Internet, independent candidate Joseph Kennedy laid out the most specific proposals on what he would do if elected.
Mr. Kennedy said he would propose laws to end all current wars, audit the federal reserve operations, seek repayment of all federal bailout money and roll back a 43 percent increase in spending during the Bush years. He also said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should be fired in light of her handling of the Christmas Day attempted bombing of an international flight to Detroit.
Mr. Brown, who yesterday said he supported use of waterboarding to get information from terrorist suspects, went further today insisting the technique that relies on repeated simulation of drowning on restrained prisoners, is not a form of torture.
The state senator said he disagrees with U.S. Sen. John McCain’s opposition to waterboarding.
Mr. McCain, R-Arizona, who endorsed Mr. Brown’s candidacy Sunday and was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, opposes the use of waterboarding as a form of torture. President Barack Obama banned the practice last January and has declared that waterboarding is a form of torture.
But Mr. Brown stood his ground on the issue, arguing there are times such techniques are needed to protect the country.
“It’s time we stopped acting like lawyers and start acting like Patriots,” Mr. Brown said.
“If there is a time bomb situation and they know of a person who in fact has information, it should be up to the president to determine what tools he wants to use to gather information, ” Mr. Brown said, including waterboarding. “I believe it’s not torture.”
A lawyer and lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, Mr. Brown did not rule out other techniques to get information as well.
“I’m a military attorney, so I understand the law on this very important issue,” he said. “I will use any means possible and encourage the president to use any means necessary to gather any information to keep our country safe.”
Terror suspects such as the Nigerian claiming al-Qaida backing in the Christmas bombing attempt, Mr. Brown said, should be handed over to the military.
“They should be in a facility like Guantanamo Bay and getting interrogated,” he said.
Ms. Coakley, a career prosecutor elected state attorney general in 2006, countered that the decision to try terror suspects in courts or military tribunals needs to be made on a case-by-case basis and returned to the torture issue when asked about Mr. Brown’s recent ad comparing himself to President John F. Kennedy.
“I think he’s got the wrong president in the ad. I think it should be Scott Brown and George Bush, because what he believes in and what he denies, denies climate change, denies we have a real economic recession problem, doesn’t want to propose anything and let it continue and not get out of this recession, it’s really George Bush,” she said.
Ms. Coakley then said she backed Mr. McCain’s view that waterboarding is a form of torture.
“I don’t agree with John McCain on much, but I respect him. He was a war hero and he was tortured and he says he thinks it is. So this is one area where Scott Brown can pick and choose what he believes, but this is an area that he is really more like Bush-Cheney than he is like John F. Kennedy,” she said.
On health care, Mr. Brown said he opposes the pending reforms to expand coverage nationally with mandated purchase of insurance and argued it would force Massachusetts to pay for the cost of expanding coverage in other states. He said he would be the 41st vote in the Senate needed to block the legislation.
Ms.Coakley defended the pending reforms and said increased competition would help reduce health care costs nationally, while Mr. Kennedy opposes the reforms.
On proposed global warming fees on the use of carbon fuels through a national cap and trade emissions program, Mr. Brown said it is a bad way to address the issue in the middle of an economic recession.
He said it would drive up already high energy costs that are pushing one of the state’s largest high-tech companies, EMC, based in Hopkinton, to move out of the state. He added that the legislation would add $5 million to $6 million in costs to Worcester bottling company Polar Beverage’s operations.
Mr. Brown said he supports efforts to reduce reliance on oil with solar wind and other alternative energy sources. Ms. Coakley and Mr. Kennedy both said they support the large Cape Wind energy project and Mr. Brown said he opposes it because it Nantucket Sound is not the right location.
Ms. Coakley reiterated her opposition to a troop expansion in Afghanistan, while Mr. Kennedy, making his first bid for elective office, said he wants an immediate end to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Brown, however, said the escalation in Afghanistan is needed to prevent the Taliban from gaining a foothold to control Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and spreading nuclear arms to terrorists in other countries.
The election to decide who will serve out three years remaining in the Senate term of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is Jan. 19.
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