Posted by Wordsmith on 23 March, 2016 at 9:28 am. 19 comments already!

In wake of the Brussels attack, media (including center-right polibloggers monikered “wordsmith”) once again are drawing focus on Trump; because how do you keep a narcissist happy? Feed them the attention they ask for:

The Republican frontrunner was the first presidential hopeful to respond to the Brussels attacks, tweeting and then appearing on multiple television shows to promote an anti-immigration policy and endorse torture.

He also endorsed the use of torture for people who have information on terrorists.

“If they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding,” Trump told NBC’s Today Show. “You have to get the information from people.”

On Wolf Blitzer:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump about Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, who was captured in Belgium last week and is reportedly talking with investigators.

“Well you know he may be talking, but he’ll talk a lot faster with the torture,” Trump said, remarking that if he would have talked sooner, perhaps Tuesday’s attacks could have been prevented.


While I do believe we have moral standards to live up to, rule of laws to uphold, I also believe it’s immoral to not do everything we can to save lives because we treat our enemies with kid gloves. I understand that. I get it.

Unfortunately, Trump’s (mis)understanding of waterboarding as implemented in the Bush-era and how interrogations work is glaringly obvious. He apparently shares mainstream perception that the CIA and military engaged in torture; the difference being is his come-away: So what? It’s torture lite and we should not be ashamed of it but do “a helluva lot worse”. Trump is embodying the cartoonish view of right-wingers willing to go all Jack Bauer on some terrorist candy-a$$e$.

Trump, like most of the world, is speaking out of ignorance.

As Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster, wrote in February as a response to Trump’s claims that he’d bring back waterboarding “and worse”:

the idea that we need something “beyond waterboarding” to achieve this is absurd. Of the tens of thousands of individuals captured since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, only about 30 were subjected to enhanced interrogation of any kind, and just three underwent waterboarding.

So the idea that we need to go “beyond waterboarding” to get the information we need to protect the country is flat wrong. With the exception of a few extreme cases—like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—we can get the information we need without waterboarding, much less techniques that are “far worse.”

SITs are appropriate in most cases. EITs, even in absence of any public controversy that arose after 2005, became less used and less needed as time wore on. In the early days, we knew very little about al Qaeda and were desperate to prevent the next wave of attacks that seemed imminent on the heels of 9/11. But by 2006, we owed over half of what we came to learn and understand about al Qaeda, through information obtained in the CIA RDI Program(s). To this day, the intelligence community is benefiting from those intell yields from the likes of KSM, who did have EITs applied, including 5 CIA swim lessons.

My response in February:

the issue is moot. When Ted Cruz states he “would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use,” it perpetuates a commonly held misperception that the practice was used on more than just 3 HVTs; and in use by our military (Rumsfeld specifically rejected it as an EIT when military officials came to him requesting alternate techniques, whereas Bush signed on to it while rejecting an EIT that was even more severe).

As I wrote before:

Waterboarding was discontinued in 2006 as a CIA EIT practice under Bush’s watch (and the last time an HVT received waterboarding treatment was in 2003) as its effectiveness was compromised when its usage as a technique to interrogate HVTs became common knowledge (applied to only 3 HVTs). President Obama’s 2009 EO signed upon his first day in office banning all EITs was basically redundant on the torture issue, since President Bush essentially said much the same in his 2007 EO.


What made waterboarding- and all the EITs in the CIA program- effective as tools against HVTs who were trained to resist standard interrogation practices, was in the not knowing. In the secrecy. Because of all the media attention and President Obama’s decision to release the OLC “torture” memos describing the techniques, the Houdini psychological power of these techniques have been all but effectively nullified.The CIA program should probably be revived; but now that the magic tricks have been revealed to its al Qaeda audience, demystifying the EITs, HVTs know that what they have to train against is the smoke and mirrors of simulated torture, and not real torture. So what techniques would a revived CIA interrogation program that goes beyond the Army Field Manual have to entail? Whatever they come up with, we the general public should not be privy to.


Some comments I’ve seen from people argue “If it was okay under Bush, how come it’s not okay now?” How is it that a staunch defender of CIA waterboarding like Marc Thiessen not also endorse Trump’s views? How does former CIA Director Michael Hayden defend the CIA interrogation program with a straight face while attacking Trump over claims of military allowance for waterboarding (something that Rumsfeld had rejected as inappropriate for military interrogations)?

Peter Feaver:

there was a debate among reasonable lawyers about whether the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program launched by the Bush Administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and then rolled back in the second term in the face of public pressure and adverse court rulings, were legal at the time. But that program was much more narrowly circumscribed than what Trump is talking about –indeed, he explicitly says he wants to do “a hell of a lot worse” than what was done in that program. And note: last October, Congress passed provisions in the 2016 Defense Authorization Act that make waterboarding and other techniques Trump wants to go way past explicitly illegal. There simply would not be much of a debate about Trump’s proposals. The overwhelming consensus would be that it is illegal.

Besides the recent NDAA, Since the Bush-era, we’ve also had the 2005 DTA, Hamdan v Rumsfeld decision (wrongfully applying Common Article 3 of the GC), and 2006 MCA- all legislations that complicated matters for the CIA RDI Program (causing the CIA Interrogation program to suspend itself a couple of times, culminating in President Obama’s 2009 EO that officially ended it).


Every expert I have talked to has reached the same conclusion: Trump (and any lawyers he could find) would likely lose the case and the military would rightly see the orders as illegal.

Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.

Feaver’s follow up:

This morning, I joined a group of scholars and experts in civil-military relations to post a letter calling on all presidential candidates, but especially Donald Trump, to stop boasting about ordering the U.S. military to commit war crimes. I had written on this a few days earlier, and was dismayed to hear Donald Trump double down on the boast at the Fox News debate on Thursday night.

As we were circulating and posting our letter, Trump was conducting an interview with the Wall Street Journal, apparently backing down. Here is his latest statement:

Mr. Trump, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, said he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

This statement, if it reflects the true position of Trump today, possibly amounts to an extraordinary rebuke of everything he has been saying, and resaying, and repeating on the topic for months.

This is important. Trump would not be walking back from a stray comment made in the give-and-take of a chaotic debate. He would be flip-flopping from a boast that he has repeatedly made with as much aforethought as he gives anything he says.

It will still leave unanswered some troubling questions. Is Trump actually reversing himself, or has he wrongly convinced himself that his Thursday night debate boast is somehow consistent with his Friday midday Wall Street Journal retraction? Since Trump also falsely claimed on Thursday night that he had not reversed himself on numerous issues where the debate moderators had him nailed, chapter-and-verse, there is a reason to be skeptical.

But it is possible this is a sincere reversal. We will know that Trump is serious if he repeats his new message as often as he repeated his old one. If he does, that will go some distance to repairing the damage already done.



Here is a good recent interview with Michael Hayden on Lawfare Blog.

I purchased Hayden’s book, btw. A good read no matter what side of the issues you are on.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x