Despite so much bad news coming out of Washington, we won a major victory this week: President Trump abandoned his threat to reinstate the torture program.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to “bring back waterboarding, and a hell of a lot worse.” We mobilized to make sure he couldn’t.
Immediately after the election, we rallied the largest group of retired military leaders we have ever assembled. They had a clear message: the United States will not be returning to torture. 176 retired flag officers—including 33 four-star generals—wrote the president to say, “Our greatest strength is our commitment to the rule of law and to the principles embedded in our Constitution. Our servicemen and women need to know that our leaders do not condone torture or detainee abuse of any kind.”
With your support, we worked behind the scenes to make sure that going into confirmation hearings President Trump, his cabinet nominees, and Congress heard the military leaders’ message loud and clear.
We succeeded. All five national security nominees—for Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, CIA Director, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Attorney General—publicly stated that waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques are unlawful and inappropriate. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, previously a supporter of the torture program, even said that if the president ordered him to restart the torture program, he would refuse.
Getting future cabinet officials on record paid off. When a draft executive order circulated that included language paving the way for torture and CIA black sites, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle opposed it.
There’s still a lot more work to do; the draft order stipulates that detention and trials at Guantanamo could be expanded. We will fight that with everything we have. And we will be vigilant about any administrative changes to the interrogation rules to ensure that our country never returns to the dark side.
There are many challenges to come, but here’s the lesson I take from this week: with a clear goal and a smart strategy, we can win.