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“We have to fight fire with fire”

Trump faces criticism for saying that torture works

Trump faces criticism for saying he believes that torture works

Donald Trump has advocated for a possible return of torture, saying: “Absolutely I feel it works.” The president is likely to face a backlash among the military, intelligence and political classes in Washington for such remarks, with experts already worried about reports that say he plans to bring back so-called “black site” prisons. 

Here’s what you need to know:

“We have to fight fire with fire”

In an interview with ABC News released Wednesday, Trump said he would defer to his national security team as to what could be done legally to combat terrorism. But when asked if he thought a torture technique such as waterboarding works, he answered in the affirmative. His opinion was formed after he spoke to unnamed people “at the highest level of intelligence” this week. When Trump asked if such methods were effective, “The answer was yes, absolutely.” 

“When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times,” Trump said. “Would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.” Despite this, Trump said that he would listen to the views of experts like Defense Secretary James Mattis – “If they don’t want to do it, that’s fine.”

Bringing back black sites

The comments came on the same day that the New York Times and the Washington Post published a leaked document suggesting that the administration was seeking to bring back Bush-era interrogation practices and reinstate facilities known as “black sites” (also known as secret prisons) to detain terror suspects. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the draft order was “not a White House document,” and a BuzzFeed report seems to back this up – revealing that it is almost identical to a draft order Mitt Romney put together during his 2012 presidential campaign.

Opposition from his own team

Among the most vocal opponents to any new torture plans will come from his own national security cabinet. James Mattis, Trump’s new defense secretary, told his Senate confirmation hearing that he is deeply opposed to the use of torture and the mistreatment of enemy soldiers. CIA director Mike Pompeo was reportedly “blindsided” by the revelations on Wednesday. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Pompeo said he would “absolutely not” back the use of such tactics, adding: “Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or president.”

It is unclear who the “intelligence officials” Trump spoke to were, but they almost certainly did not include Daniel J. Jones, the lead author of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush era. “[The report] clearly details how the CIA internally came to the conclusion that their interrogation program was ineffective — and that the CIA should not be operating detention sites,” Jones told the New Yorker.

Of course it is unlikely Trump has read either the 500-page declassified summary of the report and even less likely that he has read the 6,700-page classified report — given that he says he has no time to read.

What would Trump know? 

Trump has no military experience. According to Michael D’Antonio’s autobiography, Trump received a medical deferment so he didn’t have to serve in the war in Vietnam. However, Trump is quoted in the book as saying “I always felt that I was in the military.” As the New Yorker points out, this may have been because Trump attended a military-themed boarding school, not far from West Point. As he told the CIA on Monday: “I know a lot about West Point. Trust me, I’m, like, a smart person.”

“We are not bringing back torture”

The strongest opposition to any new plans might well come from John McCain, a military veteran who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and survived torture himself. The Arizona Senator, who co-authored legislation in 2015 to limit the use of extreme interrogation methods, left Trump in no doubt about his views: “The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”

The former CIA chief Leon Panetta, who gave the order in 2009 to close the black site prisons, warned the White House that reopening them and reintroducing torture would be “a serious mistake,” saying: “We don’t need to use enhanced interrogation to get the information required.”


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