Last week President-elect Donald Trump met with retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to discuss his possible appointment as Secretary of Defense. Their meeting covered a topic which could have long term implications for the future of U.S. national security: torture.
Throughout his campaign Trump openly supported the use of torture against terror suspects, claiming that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
After meeting with General Mattis, however, he adopted a more moderate tone. “It certainly does not—it’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think,” Trump said. This is because General Mattis disavowed the effectiveness of waterboarding.
The New York Times reports that General Mattis told Trump that he has “never found [waterboarding] to be useful,” and found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects. “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.’’
This development should not come as a surprise. General Mattis’s statements are backed up by dozens of retired military leaders and interrogators who know for a fact that torture does not work. In September 2015, a group of former national security, law enforcement, intelligence, and interrogation professionals co-signed a letter warning all presidential candidates that “torture is not only illegal and immoral; it is counterproductive.”
They added: “[Torture] 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. It also increases the risk that our troops will be tortured, 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.”
Long story short, torture does not work. And a number of public officials—including President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Director of the FBI James Comey, and former Executive Director of the CIA Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard—have stepped up to say that waterboarding is torture.
In fact, the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment of 2015, which was adopted with overwhelming bipartisan support, outlaws waterboarding by restricting all U.S. government agencies and departments to the interrogation approaches listed in the Army Field Manual. It therefore ensures that the abusive approaches that some call “enhanced interrogation” cannot be authorized.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is also banned by the following domestic statutes and international treaties the United States is a party to: the Torture Convention Implementation Act; the Torture Victim Protection Act; the War Crimes Act; the Detainee Treatment Act; the Convention Against Torture; the Geneva Conventions; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Waterboarding is both illegal and counterproductive. General Mattis’s remarks to President-elect Trump should serve as a reminder that restoring such interrogation techniques would be a devastating mistake.