By Camille Marrero
Last week, a diverse coalition of human rights, civil liberties, and religious groups wrote to President Trump opposing any executive action that would facilitate torture or other abusive interrogation and detention practices. After news outlets circulated a draft of an executive order that could lead to the return of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the coalition advised President Trump that these practices are dangerous and damaging to our national security.
The letter comes on top of statements from President Trump’s national security principals and nominees—including CIA Director Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mattis, Attorney General Nominee Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security General Kelly, and Secretary of State Nominee Tillerson—that waterboarding and other forms of torture are unlawful and inappropriate.
Earlier this month, 176 retired flag officers—including 33 four star generals and admirals—from all branches of the U.S. military urged President Trump to reject the use of torture because it is counterproductive. Torture, they said, “increases the risks to our troops, hinders cooperation with allies, alienates populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and provides a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm.” Instead, they recommended the use of “lawful, rapport-based interrogation techniques.”
President Trump wrongly insists that “torture works,” but said he would defer to Secretary of Defense James Mattis who has rejected waterboarding and other forms of torture and abuse. Professional interrogators say that rapport-based methods are a lawful and effective way to obtain “secure timely, important and actionable intelligence” that can disrupt attacks and save lives.
On the other hand, the use of torture and abuse “tends to produce unreliable information because it degrades a detainee’s ability to recall and transmit information, undermines trust in the interrogator, and often prompts a detainee to relay false information that he believes the interrogator wants to hear.”
Torture is also prohibited under both domestic and international law. The prohibitions against torture and cruel treatment have been part of our values since the founding of this nation. The use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, undermined our relations with other countries and was exploited as a propaganda tool by extremists.
In 2015, Congress reinforced the prohibition against torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by passing the McCain-Feinstein Amendment in an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 78-21. This legislation limits interrogation methods to those included in the Army Field Manual.
We urge President Trump to join members of Congress as well as his nominees, cabinet members, and senior advisors who have openly rejected the return of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and to stand for the core values embedded in the U.S. Constitution.