NEW YORK — The United States must struggle to never waver from its own ideals of justice and equality, whether in the treatment of young black men in the criminal justice system or the treatment of terrorism suspects abroad, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt that at home and abroad America is at our best when our actions match our values,” the likely Democratic presidential candidate said days after the release of a wrenching Senate report on harsh interrogation methods and other controversial tactics following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I’m proud to have been a part of the Obama administration that banned illegal renditions and brutal interrogation practices,” Clinton said to applause.
Clinton was among the honorees at a glitzy awards ceremony put on by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a global organization led in part by descendants of the slain attorney general, senator and presidential candidate.
Hollywood legend Robert De Niro and crooner Tony Bennett also received awards at the red-carpet event, which combined earnest advocacy with the glamour of the Kennedy political dynasty.
De Niro drew applause with a wry reference to the possibility of a Clinton presidency in 2016, remarking that when people can agree that medical care is a human right, there is no need for political fights over Obamacare, or whatever it might be called in the future. “Hillarycare?” he said.
“Today we can say again in a loud and clear voice the United States should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world,” Clinton said.
“That should be absolutely clear as a matter of both policy and law,” she said.
Kennedy would be proud of some U.S. advances on human rights and social justice in the nearly 50 years since his death but might despair at the income inequality and racial disparities that persist, she said.
“What would he say to all those who have lost trust in our government and our other institutions, who read reports about torture done in the name of our country?” Clinton said.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a majority of Americans believe that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks were justified. About half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture.
In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”
The poll followed the release of the report on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which President Obama ended in 2009. The report concluded that controversial interrogation techniques — including waterboarding detainees, placing them in stress positions and keeping them inside confinement boxes — were not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.
Clinton’s award came on the same day that former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s announcement of preparations for a possible presidential bid drew attention to another political family and the potential for a Bush-Clinton dynastic contest.
A spokesman for Clinton declined to comment on Bush’s move, but the close circle of advisers who make up Clinton’s de facto campaign consider Bush a formidable potential opponent.
Asked how Bush’s toe-dip affects Clinton or other potential Democratic entrants, Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee said, “Not at all.”
“You can try to game out this early who your opponent might be in a crowded field and just drive yourself crazy,” because those bets will probably be wrong, Elleithee said. “The best thing you can do is just make your case.”