By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seven years after the United States banned waterboarding as an interrogation tactic, two Republican presidential candidates said on Saturday they would revive its use and one of them, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, would go even further.
"I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," Trump said during Saturday night's Republican debate on ABC, days before New Hampshire holds its primary for the Nov. 8 election.
Trumps's rival and a fellow leader in the opinion polls, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, said he would only allow limited use of the practice.
Waterboarding - the practice of pouring water over someone’s face to mimic drowning as an interrogation tactic - remains controversial in the United States even after Democratic President Barack Obama banned use of the method days after he took office in 2009.
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report in 2014, despite the objection of Republicans, that detailed what it called torture tactics used by the Central Intelligence Agency, including the extensive use of waterboarding.
Waterboarding came into more common use by the United States during the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. American interrogators utilized the tactic to try to garner more information from captives, but critics argued the method never actually yielded any intelligence information.
Republicans have been critical of Obama's decision to eliminate the practice, saying it telegraphs a position of weakness to the nation's enemies and concedes that the United States erred in using waterboarding.
Cruz said he would not "bring it back in any sort of widespread use" and noted that he doesn't believe waterboarding meets the international definition for torture.
"If it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe,” Cruz said.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio declined to say definitively whether he would reinstitute the use of waterboarding.
"We should not be discussing in a widespread way the exact tactics that we're going to use because that allows terrorists to know to practice how to evade us," Rubio said.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said he would not employ waterboarding.
"Congress has changed the laws and I... think where we stand is the appropriate place," said Bush.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Mary Milliken)