Trump bucks military on waterboarding

Getty Images

Donald Trump is bucking the opinions of military leaders by doubling down on his support for waterboarding and other tough methods of dealing with terrorists.

The latest bellicose rhetoric from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee follows a terrorist attack in Istanbul that killed at least 42. 

{mosads}“What do you think about waterboarding?” Trump asked an Ohio crowd at a rally the night of the attack. “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.”

“So we can’t do waterboarding, but they can do chopping off heads, drowning people in sealed cages … you have to fight fire with fire,” Trump added.

The comments prompted retired military leaders — including two former CIA directors — to again reject the use of waterboarding, a practice banned by international law in which water is poured over a captive to simulate drowning.

“It’s not the United States of America. It’s not what we are all about. It’s not what we are,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a retired Navy captain and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday at the Bipartisan Center. 

“It doesn’t work. … Because if you inflict enough pain on someone they will tell you whatever they think you want to hear,” said McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain said he had spoken to former CIA Director David Petraeus on the issue. 

“Strongly agree [with] Sen. McCain on this,” Petraeus, a retired four-star Army general, said in an email to The Hill on Thursday. 

Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant, also came out against the practice for the first time this week. 

“There is such a thing as an illegal order, and I deeply believe in the Geneva Conventions,” he said at the Bipartisan Policy Center Wednesday. 

“And I think that the United States has always been perceived to have adhered to those standards, and when we depart from that track … we are departing from our identity. That is not who we are. That is not what we do,” he added. 

On Thursday, 58 retired military generals and admirals called on both parties’ candidates to “unequivocally” reject the use of torture on prisoners of war in their party platforms.

Signatories included retired Marine Gen. John Allen, former commander of the Afghanistan War, and retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, former commander of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander.

Embracing waterboarding is just one example of the get-tougher-with–terrorists approach in policy and rhetoric from Trump.

The businessman has also called for the killing of terrorists’ families, which is also against international law. 

Trump’s comments mark a reversal from earlier attempts from his campaign to walk back the candidate’s earlier calls for torture. 

During a Republican debate in March, Trump said he would bring back waterboarding, which is outlawed under international and national law, and order troops to carry it out. 

“If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about,” he said during the debate in Detroit. 

Days later, after prompting criticism from military and legal experts, Trump said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, “I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.” 

Currently serving military officials have been careful not to weigh in on the election, but some have made caveated remarks. 

“So from my perspective, the policy as it stands is acceptable,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at a March 8 briefing when asked about the use of waterboarding and killing terrorists’ families. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has also taken great pains to avoid commenting on the current election. 

However, long before the election, then-Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby made no qualms about the Department’s stance on torture. 

“The Department of Defense does not participate in torture, does not condone it, does not conduct it,” he said in December 2014.

Former CIA and National Security Agency director and retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden speculated that Trump would follow through with his calls for torture as president. 

“At that point, the [CIA] director is going to have to man up and simply say, ‘For the protection of my officers, I’m afraid, Mr. President, I cannot direct that,'” Hayden said on “CBS This Morning” Thursday.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video