Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has been weighing in on multiple national security topics lately, especially on waterboarding terrorism suspects. Trump had this to say to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
“I would bring it back, yes. I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, stuff what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head. That’s a whole different level and I would absolutely bring back interrogation and strong interrogation.”
According to polling over the years, a majority of Americans remain against waterboarding and other forms of brutal physical pressure during interrogations. However, a large slice of the population supports the practice: for example, in 2007, some 40% were in favor, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll; in 2014, that number creeped up to 47%, according to Rasmussen Reports.
I’d like to ask a follow up question, then. If certain presidential candidates are so sure of the practice, why are they only using the waterboarding technique on terrorism suspects? If the practice is sincerely “not torture” and is also “effective” in extracting valuable information from recalcitrant detainees, why not allow every single federal, state, local, and tribal police force in the country from using it?
Following this logic, this “effective” technique can be used in criminal cases large and small, stopping killers, drug dealers, rapists, pedophiles, embezzlers, tax cheats, and who knows who else. And why stop at criminal investigations? The technique could be used in divorce court and congressional investigations (Benghazi?). Maybe juvenile cases too.
So why not, Mr. Trump? Could it be because there might be a bit of a strong reaction if police departments across America started waterboarding folks? Remember, the waterboard would be used for suspects, not actually-convicted individuals. Since the waterboard was used to elicit previously unknown information, there’ll be a lot of innocent people fake-drowned under this scenario.
Let’s go further: Mr. Trump, why stop at waterboarding? It’s not the be-all-and-end-all of all elicitation efforts. There are some who can withstand the technique, just like anything else. What should be proposed then? Human being are exceptionally creative in this sort of cruel endeavor – could whatever comes next be acceptable, too?
Physical brutality does sometimes elicit valuable information, say people like General Paul Aussaresses, who oversaw France’s efforts in Algeria during the 1950s and then candidly discussed his use of torture and death squads in a 2001 memoir. But sometimes it doesn’t, but by the time you’ve realized what you’ve done, you’ve irrevocably soiled your hands. And face some degree of punishment: Aussaresses had his Légion d’Honneur and his rank stripped from him after his book appeared.
But I think most Americans, even those who theoretically support waterboarding and other forms of physical pressure used against suspected terrorists, would be shocked if this technique was rolled out and used by local cops. And if it’s appalling to have practiced in police stations throughout America, that should give pause to Americans abroad using it, as it might result in less-than-optimal outcomes. As Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations Andrew Lebovich acidly noted, “Somehow it’s both not that big a deal and also horrible enough to get confessions from hardened terrorists.”
Once you open Pandora’s Box, it’s very hard to close again. So, I ask journalists: please ask Mr. Trump (and all the other candidates, by the way) the same question: why just use waterboarding on only suspected terrorists?
Then the follow up to the follow up: Don’t you want to keep America safe?
photo: The DonaldJTrump.com website.