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Clinton: 'U.S. should never condone or practice torture'

At a star-studded human rights awards ceremony on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton strongly condemned torture, saying it is never acceptable.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds on stage during the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 24, 2014 in New York City. (John Moore/Getty)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds on stage during the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 24, 2014 in New York City.

Hillary Clinton strongly condemned torture at an event on Tuesday night while accepting a human rights award named in honor of Robert F. Kennedy.

Clinton accepted the “Ripple of Hope” award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights at a star-studded New York City dinner that also honored celebrities like Robert De Niro and Tony Bennett.                                                                                                                 

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“Yes, the threat of terrorism is real and urgent. Scores of children were just murdered in Pakistan. Beheadings in the Middle East. A siege in Sydney,” she said of recent events. “These tragedies not only break our hearts, but should steal our resolve and underscore that our values are what set us apart of our adversaries.” 

“I am proud to have been a part of the Obama administration that banned illegal renditions and brutal interrogation practices,” she said to applause. “Today, we can say in a loud and clear voice that the U.S. should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world."

She called for a new law barring torture, as some senators have proposed, but did not mention prosecuting those involved int he Bush-era program. A ban on torture "should be absolutely clear as a matter of both policy and law, including our treaty obligations, and if that requires new legislation, then Congress should work with President Obama quickly to enact it. And it should not be an issue of partisan politics.," she said.

Clinton also wove together recent struggles against police brutality, torture, and Wall Street malpractice into one fight for justice, asking what Kennedy would say today to people involved in those struggles. 

"We can stand up together and say, yes, black lives matter. Yes, the government should serve and protect all the people."'

“What would he say to all those who have lost trust in our government and our other institutions, who shudder at images of excessive [police] force? Who read reports about torture done in the name of our country, who see too many representatives in Washington quick to protect a big bank, but slow to take action to help working families facing ever greater pressure. What would Robert Kennedy say to them?” she asked. 

Last week, liberal Democrats fought a government spending bill that included a provision that weakens a regulation on big banks.

Clinton also spoke about the need to reform the criminal justice system and reduce mass incarceration as a matter of human rights. She also referenced a slogan popularized by demonstrators protesting the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

“We can stand up together and say, yes, black lives matter. Yes, the government should serve and protect all the people,” Clinton said.

She also spoke pointedly about economic inequality, asking what Kennedy would say about how “such a large portion of economic gains have gone to such a small portion of our population.”

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“That inequality is not inevitable,” Clinton continued. “Some of the economic disparities may stem from long-term trends in globalization and automation, but we don’t have to give in to them.” 

Clinton received a warm embrace from both the Kennedy family and the assembly of dignitaries, friends, donors gathered — and fielded a few pleas for her to run for president. 

Even De Niro, who also accepted an award, couldn’t resist. “When we agree that it’s a human right to have reasonable and responsible medical care, we won’t fight about Obamacare, or whatever it will be called — Hillarycare?" he said to applause and laughter.

Kerry Kennedy, who runs the organization named after her father and served as emcee for the evening, called Clinton a human rights “super star.”

And she recalled a time that then-first lady Clinton helped a human rights activist named Donna Ortiz who was on a hunger strike outside the White House. Before the awards dinner, Ortiz told Kennedy, “I hope she runs for president, she's got my vote.”

Clinton had plenty of love for the Kennedy clan as well, praising the “extraordinary service of the Kennedy family” and sitting next to matriarch Ethel Kennedy at the head of a long table of VIPs. Before the event, Kennedy told msnbc that she too hoped Clinton would run for president and that her father, RFK, would be “very happy” with Clinton as well.

Cheryl Hines, the actress who is married to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., agreed. “I would love to see her run for president. I’ve been ready for Hillary for a long time,” she told msnbc. “It would be pretty great if she announced tonight.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, noting the high number of Italian-Americans honored at the event, joked about making Clinton an honorary Italian for evening. When she came on stage, Clinton quipped that she should be called “Clintoni.”