Donald Trump has used his first TV interview as president to say he believes torture “absolutely” works and that the US should “fight fire with fire.”
Speaking to ABC News, Trump said he would defer to the defence secretary, James Mattis, and CIA director, Mike Pompeo, to determine what can and cannot be done legally to combat the spread of terrorism.
But asked about the efficacy of tactics such as waterboarding, Trump said: “absolutely I feel it works.”
“When Isis is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times. Would I feel strongly about waterboarding. As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire.”
Trump said he asked intelligence chiefs earlier this week whether torture works. “The answer was yes, absolutely,” he said.
He added that terrorist groups “chop off the citizens’ or anybody’s heads in the Middle East, because they’re Christian or Muslim or anything else … we have that and we’re not allowed to do anything. We’re not playing on an even field.”
The interviews come after reports that Trump is preparing to sign an executive order that would reinstate the detention of terrorism suspects at facilities known as “black sites”.
This would remove limitations on coercive interrogation techniques set by a longstanding army field manual intended to ensure humane military interrogations, which is mostly compliant with the Geneva Conventions.
Senator John McCain, a torture survivor and co-author of a 2015 law barring the US security agencies from using interrogation techniques beyond those set out in the US army field manual, signalled his defiance.
“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,” said McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate armed services committee.
McCain referenced explicit guarantees from Pompeo and Mattis during their Senate confirmation proceedings to follow the interrogations law and the army field manual. “I am confident these leaders will be true to their word,” McCain said.
The former CIA head Leon Panetta, who gave the orders to close the agency’s black sites told the BBC that it would be a “mistake” to reintroduce enhance interrogation techniques and “damaging” to the reputation of the US. Panetta said torture was violation of the US values and the constitution.
Steve Kleinman, a retired air force colonel and chairman of the research advisory committee to the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, warned that weakening US prohibitions against torture carried significant consequences for national security.
“If the US was to make it once again the policy of the country to coerce, and to detain at length in an extrajudicial fashion, the costs would be beyond substantial – they’d be potentially existential,” he said.
Mark Fallon, who was the deputy chief of Guantánamo’s Bush-era investigative taskforce for military tribunals, said: “It does appear like a subterfuge to enact more brutal methods because that was what candidate Trump campaigned on during the election.”
Fallon warned that the field manual’s appendix M, which allows extended “separation” of a detainee from other captives, represented a “slippery slope that could bring back torture”.
Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has been urged to by her own MPs to make Britain’s opposition to torture clear to Trump when she visits him on Friday.
At prime minister’s questions Andrew Tyrie, a senior Tory MP, said: “President Trump has repeatedly said he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. When she sees him on Friday, will the prime minister make it clear that in no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after 11 September?”
Culled from ABC News.