Week one of the Trump administration, and for some reason reauthorizing torture appears to have been high on someone’s priority list. A draft executive action obtained by The New York Times contained a rollback of President Obama’s prohibition of torture, among other dubious practices of the CIA in the Bush/Cheney-era.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer quickly denied that the document had originated from the White House, and no such executive action has been signed to date. But Trump being Trump, he nevertheless took the time to continue to defend torture on CNN. “Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump said of torture, adding that “We have to fight fire with fire,” and “we’re not on an even playing field” without it.
Trump has talked about torture frequently going well back into his campaign and seems fixated on the idea that a torture ban is somehow a major issue in the endless War on Terror. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” generally brings to mind the particular technique of waterboarding, but Trump promised he’d approve of undefined tactics “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Fortunately, Trump has promised to at least defer to his top defense advisors — specifically Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo — on the issue of torture. Pompeo indicated that torture was clearly against the law and he would follow the law, and Mattis has said he doesn’t think torture works in the first place.
Although Trump has claimed that intelligence experts have told him otherwise, actual studies support Mattis, who reportedly told Trump, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do torture.” In the words of torture victim and U.S. Sen. John McCain, “If you inflict enough pain on somebody long enough, they’re gonna tell you whatever they think you want to hear.” A Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation in 2014 bore similar results, finding that intelligence produced via various torture methods bore inconsistent and unreliable results.
But regardless of whether torture is valuable, Trump has also indicated that he’d support it just because “they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.” That’s a frightening attitude to have with regard to how America should bear itself before the world, especially from the man who is now our president.
Islamic terrorists, with their total disregard for human life and honor, certainly test our resolve on this issue. ISIS has committed atrocities that deserve worse than torture in return. But as Americans, we hold ourselves to a standard that values justice over mere revenge. That’s the reason why torture is illegal, not just because it doesn’t work.
So hopefully Trump does in fact listen to Mattis (and the law) and tame his seeming fixation on ineffective, brutal tactics that ought to remain the domain of petty dictators and repressive Third World regimes.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.