Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 1, 2008

Clinton changed on torture

Barack Obama made his most direct case for the Democratic nomination at a speech on Jan. 30, 2008, in Denver. He criticized fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's candidacy, arguing that he represents a more dramatic distinction with John McCain, the apparent Republican frontrunner after winning Florida's primary.

In making his argument, Obama attacked Clinton for voting with Republicans on national security issues, among other things.

After naming a number of areas where he said Clinton and McCain had the same positions, Obama attacked Clinton for diverging from McCain on the issue of torture. Clinton "actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed," Obama said.

It sounds a little convoluted, so here's the step-by-step.

In October 2006, Clinton spoke about exceptions to a no-torture policy when speaking to the New York Daily News. Clinton mentioned a "ticking time bomb" scenario in which a captured terrorist has knowledge of an imminent terror attack and interrogators want to use torture.

"In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the president, and the president must be held accountable," she said. "That very, very narrow exception within very, very limited circumstances is better than blasting a big hole in our entire law."

Then, on Sept. 26, 2007, Clinton said something different. During a debate, Tim Russert asked her about the ticking bomb scenario and here's what she said: "As a matter of policy, it cannot be American policy, period." She said she met with military generals who told her there is "very little evidence that it works."

In the days after the debate, the Republican National Committee criticized her for flip-flopping, and Obama said he would oppose torture "without exception or equivocation," according to Daily News reports.

Did Clinton change position because of her talks with the generals or because of the "politics of the moment"? We can't see inside Clinton's head, so our ruling doesn't reflect on that part of the statement. But it is clear she changed her mind about the "ticking bomb" scenario. So we rate Obama's claim True.

Our Sources

Barack Obama campaign Web site, The Past Versus the Future , Jan. 30, 2008.

Hillary Clinton campaign Web site, Sen. Obama's speech in Denver will contain four misleading attacks on Hillary in one sentence , Jan. 30, 2007.

New York Daily News, "McCain team mocks Hil torture loophole," Oct. 16, 2006.

Newsweek, Torture's Terrible Toll , by John McCain, Nov. 21, 2005.

MSNBC, Democratic debate transcript , Sept. 26, 2007.

New York Daily News, "GOP Trashes Clinton on her 'tortuous' logic," Sept. 30, 2007.

New York Daily News, "Hillary gets Barack bop for flip-flop on torture," Oct. 3, 2007.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Angie Drobnic Holan

Clinton changed on torture

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up