March 5, 2024

Trump’s changing views on torturing terrorists

He seems to have retreated from earlier enthusiasm for waterboarding

During his campaign, President-elect Trump said that he would endorse waterboarding, a form of torture, to extract information from terrorist suspects. “Believe me, it works,” he said in February:

Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys—”Torture doesn’t work!”—believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding.

As his nomination drew nearer, however, he retreated from this crowd-pleasing suggestion. He told the Wall Street Journal in May that “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

And in his only reference to the issue since the election, he told the New York Times that he had discussed the matter with James N. Mattis, before nominating him as Defense Secretary.

“I said, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?’ I was surprised. He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’ And I was very impressed by that answer.”

In any case, as the Times points out, Congress, lawyers, the military, the CIA, health care workers, psychologists, medical ethicists and foreign allies have all taken a firm stand against torture. It might be difficult for him to reinstate the policies which existed during the Bush War on Terror, even if he wanted to. Former Republican presidential candidate and Vietnam war hero John McCain, who was tortured while a captive during the Vietnam War, is adamant on the issue.  “I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do, or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard,” he has said. “We will not torture.”

As with everything else Mr Trump says, his views on “enhanced interrogation” are contradictory and vague. In a moment of crisis, it is still unsure whether he might regard torture as a useful option.
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