After he was criticized for saying that he could force the United States military to break the current law banning torture methods like waterboarding, Donald Trump backtracked his comments, and said instead that he would like to change the laws to include waterboarding “at a minimum.”
Trump has been vocal in the past on the issue of how to deal with suspected terrorists, and in December he said that not only should the U.S. target terrorists, but also their families.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
Trump has also voiced support for bringing back waterboarding. In November, he said, “I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they do to us.”
When asked about his stance on waterboarding at a GOP debate in February, Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” because in the Middle East, “we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people.”
In response to Trump’s comments, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden insisted that Trump’s plans to target the families of terrorists, and to bring back “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are “worse than waterboarding,” would result in the American armed forces refusing to act.
“[U.S. military personnel] are not required — in fact you are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden said. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”
During a GOP debate Thursday, Fox News Host Bret Baier asked Trump what he would do, if the military “refused to carry out” his orders.
“They won’t refuse,” Trump replied. “They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”
“But they’re illegal,” Baier said.
Trump said he wants to bring back waterboarding, because members of ISIS are “chopping off the heads of Christians” and “drowning people in steel cages.” He also said he justifies targeting the families of terrorists, because in the case of the terrorists hijacking airplanes on 9/11, their families “knew what was happening.”
Trump then released a statement to The Wall Street Journal on Friday claiming that he “will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws.”
“I will 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.”
On an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, which aired Sunday, host John Dickerson asked Trump what made him change his position on the issue.
Trump claimed he wasn’t asked about “violating laws,” and said that because the U.S. has “an enemy that doesn’t play by the laws,” that enemy is “laughing at us right now.”
“I would like to strengthen the laws so that we can better compete,” Trump said. “It’s very tough to beat enemies that don’t have any restrictions, all right? We have these massive restrictions.”
Dickerson questioned how Trump would go about expanding the law, and Trump said he wants waterboarding to be allowed “at a minimum.”
“I happen to think that when you’re fighting an enemy that chops off heads, I happen to think that we should use something that is stronger than we have right now,” Trump said. “Right now, basically water-boarding is essentially not allowed, as I understand it.”
When asked why waterboarding has been banned, Trump said he believes it is because the U.S. is weak. “I think we have become very weak and ineffective,” he explained. “I think that’s why we’re not beating ISIS. It’s that mentality.”
“I think we’re weak. We cannot beat ISIS. We should beat ISIS very quickly. General Patton would have had ISIS down in about three days. General Douglas MacArthur – we are playing by a different set of rules. We are – let me just put it differently. When the ISIS people chop off the heads, and then they go back to their homes and they talk, and they hear we’re talking about water-boarding like it’s the worst thing in the world, and they just drowned a hundred people and chopped off 50 heads, they must think we are a little bit on the weak side.”
Trump claimed that he wants to bring back waterboarding, because while the U.S. is “playing by rules,” ISIS has no rules.
Dickerson questioned whether the current rules were what “separates us from the savages.”
Trump insisted that “we have to beat the savages,” and he said that could only be done if the U.S. will “play the game the way they’re playing the game.”
“Look, you have to play the game the way they’re playing the game. You’re not going to win if we are soft, and they are – they have no rules. Now, I want to stay within the laws. I want to do all of that. But I think we have to increase the laws, because the laws are not working, obviously. All you have to do is take a look what is going on. And they’re getting worse. They’re chopping, chopping, chopping, and we’re worried about waterboarding. I think our priorities are mixed up.”