Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, Cindy McCain
Mary Ann Chastain  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, and his wife Cindy shake hands with supporters at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7 in Lexington, S.C., on Sept. 17, 2007.
updated 11/2/2007 2:24:03 PM ET 2007-11-02T18:24:03

John McCain, a Vietnam war prisoner, argued Friday that his three top rivals for the GOP nomination aren't qualified to deal with issues like torture — or to be a wartime president — because they never served in the military.

The Arizona senator's position on an interrogation technique that simulates drowning — he says it constitutes torture and is illegal — puts him at odds with Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, who haven't taken such a hard line.

"There's a clear division between those who have a military background and experience in these issues and people like Giuliani, Romney and Thompson who don't —who chose to do other things when this nation was fighting its wars," McCain told reporters after touring a shipyard in this military bastion.

He stood in a warehouse and focused on comments Giuliani made Thursday on CNBC. The former New York mayor said "waterboarding" should not be used in every circumstance, but he also left the door open to it.

"I'm very reluctant to take away presidential prerogatives and decision making, maybe because I've faced crisis more than the other ones have," said Giuliani, who was praised by many for his performance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Lieutenant Commander John Mccain Is Welcomed By U S President Richard Nixo
Getty Images  /  Getty Images
Lieutenant Commander John McCain is welcomed home by President Richard Nixon upon his release from a POW camp in Vietnam.
McCain, a former Naval aviator who was tortured in his 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison, responded: "Mayor Giuliani just contradicted himself because anybody who has experience in warfare knows that waterboarding is by any definition torture and cannot be condoned. I do not know which crisis the mayor may have been talking about. My experience goes back to the Cuban missile crisis and every conflict we've been in since."

Then, McCain broadened his broadside to also castigate Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, as well as Giuliani on Iraq. He argued they were "nowhere to be seen when we were fighting a war with the wrong strategy."

"I never saw Romney, Giuliani or Thompson say a word about it, except supporting what I clearly pointed out was a failed strategy," McCain added. He said he has called for more troops in Iraq since 2003 and saw President Bush embrace that proposal earlier this year. "I don't think there's any greater indication of experience and knowledge of how wars should be fought and how crisis should be handled."

Romney 2008
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, gestures while speaking to local residents during a town hall meeting at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007.
On a three-day tour of this early-voting state, McCain visited the Detyen Shipyard, located on Dry Dock Avenue, and held a question-and-answer session with shipyard employees wearing hard hats and blue jeans as they took a midmorning work break.

He was in the state just as a new poll showed dismal news for the one-time GOP front-runner. A Winthrop University/ETV poll showed McCain's support having slipped in South Carolina since August. He's at 9 percent in the new poll, trailing Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney who are tightly bunched in a fight for the lead.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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