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Of Course Donald Trump Is Still in Favour of Waterboarding
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Where does Donald Trump stand on the use of torture by US security agencies? During the presidential election campaign he notoriously recommended a return to waterboarding, the repeated near-drowning of detainees that was banned by President Obama in 2009. But last week The New York Times reported that in an interview with its senior staff, he said that he had changed his mind after talking with retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, who is a leading candidate to be the next secretary of defence.

Trump quoted Gen Mattis as saying that “I’ve never found it [waterboarding] to be useful”. He had found it more advantageous to gain the cooperation of terrorist suspects by other means: “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.” Trump recalled that he was very impressed by the answer, adding that torture is “not going to make the kind of difference that a lot of people are thinking”.

Trump’s remarks were taken by The New York Times as a sign that the President-elect had changed his mind about waterboarding. Unfortunately, the full transcript of his talk, as pointed out by Fred Kaplan in SalonSlate, shows exactly the opposite. Trump did indeed say that he was surprised by what Mattis said because the general was known for his toughness, but the President-elect went on to explain that “I’m not saying it changed my mind about torture”.

He added that “we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard”. Though he had been given pause by what Mattis told him, he was convinced that “if it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that.”

The initial misreporting may have stemmed from wishful thinking by The New York Times reporters – and American liberals in general – who hope that the most outrageous pieces of Trump demagoguery during the election were off-the-cuff campaign rhetoric which he is now abandoning. A pledge to prosecute Hillary Clinton is apparently being discarded, as is a plan for the immediate construction of a wall to seal off the Mexican border. The abandonment of agreements on climate change and on Iran’s nuclear programme are becoming less categorical and more nuanced.

But this is not so much a sign of a more moderate Trump emerging as it is fresh evidence of his shallowness and flippancy. He tells people whom he wants to influence exactly what they want to hear. Nothing is off limits. He not only flatters his audience, but does so in a way that is thrilling and attention-grabbing and sure to dominate the news agenda.

This sort of tough guy talk is scarcely unique to Trump, but a common feature of American political leadership. Hillary Clinton frequently made distasteful boasts about her self-inflated role in the killing of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi. Trump likewise uses and misuses macho slogans more than most politicians and then disowns them when they have served their purpose.

But he does not disown all his election pledges and he has not disowned the one on waterboarding, banned by President Obama by means of an executive order, which is much more important than the prosecution of Clinton or building the Mexican wall. Ever since 9/11, and more particularly since the rise of Isis, there has been debate about the radicalisation of Muslims and how this might be prevented. Saudi-sponsored madrassas and imams have been blamed, with some reason, but a much simpler cause of radicalisation has nothing to do with the slow imbibing of extreme Islamist ideology. This is anger and a desire to retaliate provoked by specific injustices such as waterboarding, rendition of suspects to be tortured and the abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, which acted as powerful and persuasive recruiting sergeants for Isis and Islamic extremism.

Keeping this in mind, it is important to realise that the US now has a President-elect who has just restated that he believes in the value of waterboarding. His views will not pass unnoticed among the 1.6 billion Muslims who make up 23 per cent of the world’s population and know that Muslims were the main victims of these abuses. Some members of the Trump administration, like General Mattis or General Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, do not believe in torture, but others say that it works and that any criticism of it is unpatriotic.

Such senior figures include the newly appointed head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Congressman and a supporter of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. He has backed interrogation techniques amounting to torture and greater domestic surveillance by the NSA. He sees Christianity and Islam as engaged in a titanic struggle. Speaking in 2015 before a Christian flag at a church in his district that focuses on “Satanism and paranormal activity”, he spoke of the “struggle against radical Islam, the kind of struggle this country has not faced since its great wars”, and warned that “evil is all around us”. He advised the congregation not to be put off by people who might call them “Islamophobes or bigots”. On another occasion, he denounced a mosque in Kansas for holding a speaking event which coincided with Good Friday.

As for Guantanamo, Pompeo described it as “a goldmine of intelligence about radical Islamic terrorism. I have travelled to GTMO and have seen the honourable and professional behaviour of the American men and women in uniform, who serve at the detention facility.” He denounced the release of the revelatory 2014 Senate report on torture, saying that “these men and women [the interrogators] are not torturers, they are patriots. The programmes being used were within the law, within the constitution.”


It is worth recalling what waterboarding and other types of torture of which Trump and Pompeo approve really consists of. The 2014 US Senate Report on torture by the CIA, publication of which Pompeo denounced, described waterboarding as a “series of near drownings”, in addition to which detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week and medically unnecessary “rectal feeding”. One CIA officer described prisoners being held in a “dungeon”, and interrogation leading to “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation”. The report concludes that the CIA had lied about the number of detainees, their treatment, and had fed sympathetic journalists with false information about valuable intelligence acquired by means of torture.

The “waterboarding” approved by Trump and Pompeo was only one in a range of torture techniques used by the CIA before they were banned, according to testimony in the case of of Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammad al-Nashiri in a US appeals court hearing earlier this year. In addition to artificially induced suffocation, detainees “were kept naked, shackled to the wall, and given buckets for their waste. On one occasion, Al-Nashiri was forced to keep his hands on the wall and not given food for three days. To induce sleep deprivation, detainees were shackled to a bar on the ceiling, forcing them to stand with their arms above their heads.” By such means Trump intends to make America great again.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Torture 
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  1. The dirty open secret of warfare is that torture is utilized by all belligerents. In the past, victors’ history writing obscured this truth from an ill informed population. Recent administrations carried on this self-serving mendacious tradition to the present moment, and so will future ones.

    However, technology developments have for the moment, even though mainstream media ownership is more monolithic than ever, allowed censored information to be leaked en masse to the public, by alternative conduits such as WikiLeaks and independent grassroots media, changing public perceptions.

    As noted, the current President’s noble rhetoric has evaded the realities. There’s no doubt that at some level, as the wars continue, torture goes on, with a compliant press that has been ideologically embedded with this administration and hypocritical to their own purported function.

    Trump’s endorsement of torture was troubling, but as usual contains a rough honesty. The context of torture always being a function of warfare, however, that reducing or ending destructive and futile wars, good for nothing but profit taking by wealthy weapons manufacturers, will also mean the reduction or end of torture.

    Wars always have torture integral to them. It is hypocrisy to pretend otherwise, an exercise in war propaganda. Warfare, a plethora of tortures in itself, has always been the sine qua non of such evils.

    Reduction of conflict through diplomacy and deal making, to which tactics torture is irrelevant, would mean the end of the warmaking that drives it.

    Just saying no to war, most especially imperial adventuring and conquest on the other side of the globe, is de facto saying no to torture – deeds, not mere pleasing or unpleasing words.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  2. This is anger and a desire to retaliate provoked by specific injustices such as waterboarding, rendition of suspects to be tortured and the abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, which acted as powerful and persuasive recruiting sergeants for Isis and Islamic extremism.

    I don’t think anger is provoked by specific injustices perpetrated against individuals. Anger is provoked by what appears to be a global war of the liberal west against Islam. Brutal colonization of Palestine. Occupation (direct or indirect) of Muslim countries – remember, US military bases in Saudi Arabia were cited as one of the main reasons for 9/11 2001. Individuals being tortured, they become martyrs, and this is a more or less ordinary event, inshallah. Attacks on Islam, otoh, is the cause for resistance and retaliation. That’s my intuition, anyway; what do I know…

  3. Every govt does it.
    Every govt denies it.
    ALL the “outraged” pols endorse it (privately).
    Trump is the only one HONEST and upfront about it,
    like he has been about everything else.

  4. Dave37 says:

    Water boarding as a policy won’t fly with the US population but use in extreme circumstances would, which would be Trump’s stand I think most citizens would agree with. And I’d guess nobody is complaining much about what torture happens in other countries. No doubt when China and or Russia take over from the West in the Middle East there will be no complaints to hear about on the subject of mistreatment of Islam.

  5. 5371 says:

    It would be a lot better if Saudi princes were being waterboarded or rectally fed.

    • Agree: Stephen R. Diamond
  6. “Drowning people in steel cages…”

    That would actually be one of the nicer things that those subhuman savages do to people in cages. They also quite enjoy dousing them with gasoline and burning them alive.

    Sorry, but I remain unmoved by the “horrid plight” of rabid, sadistic animals. As far as I’m concerned, they can dip them in sulfuric acid, one millimeter at a time, and I’ll remain just as unmoved.

    No, we don’t have to prove that we’re “better than they are.” Anybody who feels we need to prove that obviously has no idea what we are to begin with. And no, it’s not “exactly what ISIS wants”, anymore than being firebombed into oblivion was “exactly what Nazi Germans wanted.”

  7. @Fran Macadam

    “The dirty open secret of warfare is that torture is utilized by all belligerents.”

    That is not true. There have been many wars in which one or more sides did not use torture either to extract information or to punish belligerents seen as from the other side.

    If you change “all” to “most” you have a case.

    • Replies: @jacques sheete
  8. Waterboarding is as traditional as the Unitedstatesian holiday of Thanksgiving. It was used extensively in the Philippines, along with all sorts of much worse tortures, mutilations, trophy hunting and such.

    The United States is not and never has been a civilized nation.

    • Agree: jacques sheete
  9. It is likely that al-Qaeda and ISIS jihadis will always hate the United States. Under the current incumbent their hatred has been augmented with contempt. Let us hope that Trump can replace that contempt with fear.

    At the same time, let us hope that a policy of much reduced meddling in and immigration from the Middle East will bring us less into contact and conflict with these people.

  10. @E. A. Costa

    There have been many wars in which one or more sides did not use torture either to extract information or to punish belligerents seen as from the other side.

    I’d be interested in some proof in support of your claim.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  11. @jacques sheete

    Sure. What kind of proof–logical and mathematical?

    Here are two examples, one ancient and one modern:

    (1) In general the Classical Greek city states despised torture, even of non-Greek enemies. They thought it inhumane and debilitating to their own concept of humanity. There are many references to this, both theory and practice. By the same token, even after the Greek states became loyal subjects of the Romans they continued to criticize Roman cruelty and inhumanity, including in war. This attitude was also not shared by the Macedonians by the way. This is a very complex subject but with the Greeks it seems to have been based as much upon an aesthetic as upon any morality. Even Achilles was considered shameful desecrating Hector’s corpse.

    (2) The Cuban Communists have always been very punctilious against torture, atrocities, and such in warfare. The policy during the Revolution and afterward was to fight ferociously but always give quarter to those who surrendered, who would then be treated well–neither tortured nor executed nor abused. This is a principle based on many humanistic concepts, but it also worked practically.When Batista’s soldiers surrendered, they were fed, lectured, and released–which produced many more problems for Batista than for the revolutionaries, including increasing the willingness of his troops to surrender, and also producing suspicion of any troops who had returned. Most of Batista’s troops were peasants and often they would be told simply not to fight for Batista again and go back to their villages.

    There are innumerable other examples–start reading with new eyes.

    • Replies: @Mao Cheng Ji
    , @fnn
  12. How about dealing with torture by making it all illegal but subject always to trial by jury (unless waived by the accused). Surely juries can be counted on to “nullfy” where the defendant appears to have taken a difficult decision which can be argued to be justified (e.g. to save soldiers’ lives and limbs from booby traps). Accordingly prosecutions would often not be undertaken if that was forseeably a likely outcome.

  13. @E. A. Costa

    When Batista’s soldiers surrendered, they were fed, lectured, and released

    I have my doubts about whether Cuban rebels were just as ceremonious towards their less misguided-social-kindred enemies: the Batista’s henchmen, the CIA assassins, and such. But I’ll take this opportunity to express my condolences on the passing of el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, a great man of our times. RIP…

  14. fnn says:
    @E. A. Costa

    Torture in Cuba:

    How did a revolution whose leader promised a humanist, non-Communist and democratic revolution descend to such depravity? In his memoir of the revolutionary struggle, ”Family Portrait With Fidel” (1984), Carlos Franqui, the editor of the official revolutionary newspaper, Revolucion, for some years after the Cuban revolution, notes how shocked he was to hear reports of the torture of counterrevolutionary suspects. Bringing news of this to Mr. Castro, Mr. Franqui quickly learned that the torture had the leader’s blessings. Mr. Franqui points out that the decision to execute the former Cuban president Fulgencio Batista’s worst goons created ”a new repressive power that would be implacable.” When Mr. Franqui raised the issue of the moral degradation torture implies, Mr. Castro told him that it ”annihilates the enemy,” and hence was necessary.

    Until the publication of this book, in a serviceable translation by Andrew Hurley, we had not had a full picture of the brutality meted out to real and imaginary opponents by the Castro dictatorship. What Mr. Valladares gives us is a picture of the hell that was the Cuba he lived in, and the story of how one man’s deep Christian faith enabled him to sustain the most evil treatment and never abandon hope, no matter how fruitless hope appeared.

    Mr. Valladares and other prisoners who refused ”political rehabilitation” were forced to live in the greatest heat and the dampest cold without clothes. They were regularly beaten, shot at and sometimes killed; they were thrown into punishment cells, including the dreaded ”drawer cells,” specially constructed units that make South Vietnam’s infamous tiger cages seem like homey quarters. Eventually, together with several others, Mr. Valladares plotted an escape from their prison on the Isle of Pines. But the boat that was to pick them up never arrived. He and his accomplices were brought back to their cells and given no medical attention, though Mr. Valladares had fractured three bones in his foot during the escape attempt.

    The retribution was swift. Mr. Valladares writes: ”Guards returned us to the cells and stripped us again. They didn’t close the cell door, and that detail caught my attention. I was sitting on the floor; outside I heard the voices of several approaching soldiers. . . . They were going to settle accounts with us, collect what we owed them for having tried to escape. . . . They were armed with thick twisted electric cables and truncheons. . . . Suddenly, everything was a whirl – my head spun around in terrible vertigo. They beat me as I lay on the floor. One of them pulled at my arm to turn me over and expose my back so he could beat me more easily. And the cables fell more directly on me. The beating felt as if they were branding me with a red-hot branding iron, but then suddenly I experienced the most intense, unbearable, and brutal pain of my life. One of the guards had jumped with all his weight on my broken, throbbing leg.”

    That treatment was typical. In the punishment cells, prisoners were kept in total darkness. Guards dumped buckets of urine and feces over the prisoners who warded off rats and roaches as they tried to sleep. Fungus grew on Mr. Valladares because he was not allowed to wash off the filth. Sleep was impossible. Guards constantly awoke the men with long poles to insure they got no rest. Illness and disease were a constant. Even at the end, when the authorities were approving his release, Mr. Valladares was held in solitary confinement in a barren room with fluorescent lights turned on 24 hours a day. By then he was partially paralyzed through malnutrition intensified by the lack of medical attention.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  15. fnn says:

    Patrick’s father’s Stalinist comrades/employers were expert practitioners of torture.

  16. Svigor says:

    Where does Donald Trump stand on the use of torture by US security agencies? During the presidential election campaign he notoriously recommended a return to waterboarding, the repeated near-drowning of detainees that was banned by President Obama in 2009.

    I’d be interested in Cockburn unpacking that phrase, “near-drowning.” As I understand it, waterboarding involves elevating the subject’s lungs well above his nose and mouth, thus making drowning effectively impossible. The whole point being to induce the subjective, psychological experience of drowning, without actually risking literal drowning. Supposedly, this is what makes the procedure so effective.

    Personally, I’m more disturbed by the other torture tactics we use, like sleep deprivation, constant obnoxious music, etc. That stuff seems designed to drive people insane.

    The initial misreporting may have stemmed from wishful thinking by The New York Times reporters – and American liberals in general – who hope that the most outrageous pieces of Trump demagoguery during the election were off-the-cuff campaign rhetoric which he is now abandoning.

    Yeah, that would be libtards having their cake, and eating it, too; they get to play the “literally Hitler” card for the election to help Clinton win, then they get to say “he didn’t really mean it” after he won the election.

    Libtards are way too used to having their cake, and eating it, too.

  17. @fnn

    Hilarious. Armando Valladares Perez? Of Batista’s secret police? The terrorist? Here you can see him sitting next to his fellow terrorist Luis Posada Carriles (who blew up a Cuban civilian airliner killing more than seventy people) in a Miami restaurant:

    • Replies: @Authenticjazzman
  18. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Americans are OK with it. The vastly popular television series 24 depicted numerous instances of it.

    However it was always within the ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ scenario. To extract critical information to save many lives which must be accomplished quickly.

    It’s generally a bad idea. A smart interrogator with a pack of cigs sounds more useful. However, as I recall, the television series 24 stressed that the agent (frequently Jack Bauer) was acting as a ‘rogue’ agent rather than in an official capacity.

    In a bona fide ‘Ticking Time Bomb” scenario,
    the agent can decide act illegally. First responders risk their lives to perform their jobs. So don’t change the law or regulation. In the extremely rare situation where it would be appropriate, the ‘agent’ can risk breaking a rule or a law.

    Trump’s national security pick discusses field intelligence practices at length, and was more of a cigarette guy.

    We are willing to accept collateral damage from bombing attacks. Once a decision is made to participate in war … additional moral distinctions are mostly a moot point.

  19. @E. A. Costa

    So according to your mindset it’s perfectly okay to torture rightists, but tabu to torture leftists.

    Sort of like the German press labeling leftist rioters as : “Activists” and rightist rioters as “Rioters”.

    You disgust me.

    Authenticjazzman, “Mensa” Society member of forty-plus years and pro jazz artist.

  20. One expected just such a reply.

    Your exhibit, Señor Valladares, like Posada, both terrorists, cannot be believed about anything period–including his fictional account of torture in Cuban prison, no doubt sponsored by the CIA. He is a pathological liar in his criminality as well–across the board.

    Got it? No–you never will, will you? Because, as your predictable reply demonstrates, you are the same sort.

    Now go fuck yourself.

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