President-elect Donald Trump has given critics numerous reasons to mistrust him, but one issue that has been simmering on the back burner for the whole election cycle is Trump’s opinion that “torture works.” Will we begin torturing enemy captives again?
It doesn’t look likely. As he has already done with some of his more well known campaign promises, Trump has reversed himself on torture. His views changed after a meeting with Marine Gen. James Mattis, whom Trump is considering for Secretary of Defense.
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How is it that Gen. Mattis was able to influence Trump’s position on torture? The two met for an hour this past Saturday at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, to discuss the possibility that Mattis could serve as defense secretary. Little of the substance of the meeting has been made public, but Trump did share a few notable moments.
Tuesday, Trump told reporters from The New York Times that he and Mattis had discussed Trump’s position on waterboarding.
From the Times:
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.’” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.’’
Torture, Trump said after the conversation with Mattis, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.’’
The reversal is significant. Trump’s no-nonsense and heavy handed approach to interrogation was a fundamental characteristic of the candidate that many voted for. For him to reverse himself now won’t be an easy sell for his supporters.
Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, had–before serving with Trump–been critical of torture. Yet he changed his views for the Trump team, saying that “all options are on the table.”
John McCain, who survived captivity and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, has long been opposed to the practice, and has said he would stand in the way of any efforts Trump made to resume water-boarding.
“If [any agency of government] started waterboarding, I swear to you, there’s a whole bunch of us that would have them in court in a New York minute. And there’s no judge in America that wouldn’t say they’re in violation of the law because it’s specifically, in law, now prohibited,” McCain said. “So 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, we will not torture, we will not torture people … it doesn’t work, my friends, it doesn’t work.”
The practice was authorized by George W. Bush after the 9/11 terror attacks. President Barack Obama stopped the practice with an executive order later codified into law.