COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Monday he not only would bring back waterboarding, the controversial interrogation technique discontinued by the Obama administration, but also would "approve more than that," even if such tactics prove ineffective.
"Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat," Trump said to loud cheers during a rally at a convention center here Monday night that attracted thousands. "And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work."
Trump said such techniques are needed to confront terrorists who "chop off our young people's heads" and "build these iron cages, and they'll put 20 people in them and they drop them in the ocean for 15 minutes and pull them up 15 minutes later."
"It works," Trump said over and over again. "Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway, for what they're doing. It works."
At the rally Trump continued to claim he watched "fairly large numbers" of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks, further circulating a story that was discredited by New Jersey officials years ago.
Trump has said his popularity has soared since the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month because voters want a president who will be tough on national security issues. Trump has been highly critical and skeptical of Muslims in recent days, and his loaded rhetoric continued at the rally on Monday night, drawing loud cheers.
"We have to really be vigilant with respect to the Muslim population," Trump said at one point, calling for heavy surveillance of mosques, among other efforts.
At a rally in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday morning, Trump said he "watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down." A number of New Jersey officials have said Trump's comment is based on a disproved rumor, but the candidate has repeatedly stood by his comment and continued to do so Monday evening.
"I saw people getting together and, in fairly large numbers, celebrating as the World Trade Center was coming down, killing thousands of people — thousands and thousands of people," Trump said at the rally on Monday. "I saw people, and I saw on television, and I read about it on the Internet, and I read about it."
In searching for evidence, Trump said one of his staff members came across a Washington Post article published a week after the 9/11 attacks that described FBI probes in northern New Jersey. The 15th paragraph of the article states that “law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” Trump dramatically read this sentence aloud to the rally crowd as proof of the celebrations, even though such reports were never confirmed and video footage has yet to surface.
"Tailgate!" Trump said Monday. "Do you know what that means? Tailgate, that means football games, Ohio State, thousands of people in parking lots, on roofs. Tailgate is a lot of people. Tailgate is not two people."
Trump said he also received "phone calls in my office by the hundreds" along with a number of tweets from people he says also witnessed the celebrations.
"So, nobody believed me," Trump said. "Some people believed me. By the way: Thousands of people believed me because they saw it. But the media was going crazy."
Trump's rally took place on the home turf of one of his lower-polling rivals, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). An airplane paid for by a pro-Kasich super PAC flew above the convention center where Trump held his rally, carrying this message: "Ohioans can't trust Trump." The group also released a statement accusing Trump of flip-flopping on foreign policy issues.
Trump opened the rally by leading the crowd in a chant: "O! H! I! O!" He then mocked the state's governor for his low poll numbers.
"Your governor is only 2 [percent] — what happened?" Trump said, citing a recent poll as the crowd booed. "What happened?"
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges defended Kasich as "a very popular governor" with a high approval rating who has "turned the state around" and created thousands of jobs. Borges said candidates need to stay away from name-calling in Ohio, because the state is key to winning the general election. Borges attended the rally and, afterward, answered questions from reporters, including one who asked whether he would say that Trump's message aligns with the beliefs of the state party.
"I wouldn't," Borges said. "And I would say that we're going to have to work to be inclusive, we're going to have to work to keep this party held together. And when it's all said and done, if we don't carry Ohio, we don't win."