President Donald Trump continues to advocate for using torture techniques such as waterboarding but has stated that he will defer to the judgment of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who is against reviving the interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration.
On Jan. 27, Trump asserted during a joint press conference with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May that he believed in torture but that the way in which the war on terror is carried out would ultimately be decided by Mattis, The Washington Post reports.
"He will override," Trump said. "I'm giving him that power. ... I happen to feel that it does work. I've been open about that for a long period of time. But I am going with our leaders."
The president's statement arrives shortly before he is expected to sign an executive order that would restore off-grid CIA detention centers overseas and strip language placing restrictions on interrogation techniques from the Army Field Manual. The executive order has drawn concerns that the Trump administration aims to reintroduce former President George W. Bush's policies of waterboarding, and was blasted by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
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"The President can sign whatever executive order he likes," McCain said in a statement, according to CNN. "But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America."
In February 2016, Trump had pledged to resurrect interrogation techniques that have been defined as torture by international law, according to The Daily Caller.
"I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," Trump said.
The president has maintained his stance on torture techniques even after assuming office. On Jan. 25, Trump asserted that unnamed intelligence officials had advised him that torture techniques are effective in extracting information from terrorist suspects.
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"I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence and I asked them a question: Does it work?" Trump told ABC News. "Does torture work? And the answer was yes, absolutely."
The president's latest statement that he will defer to Mattis' judgment marks a change from March 2016, when he asserted that military and intelligence officials would comply with his orders to torture even if they refused on the grounds of breaking international law.
"If I say do it, they're gonna do it," Trump said during a GOP primary debate, according to Politico. "That's what leadership is all about. ... They're not gonna refuse me. Believe me."
In November 2016, Trump appeared to temporarily reverse his stance on torture techniques, stating that Mattis himself had advised him against their effectiveness.
"So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy. ... He said -- I was surprised -- he said, 'I've never found it to be useful,'" Trump told The New York Times. "He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.' And I was very impressed by that answer."
Mattis, a retired general who had led U.S. forces during the Iraq war, has long advocated against torture techniques. After Iraqi prisoner Nagem Sadoon Hatab was tortured and beaten to death at a detention center staffed by U.S. Marines in 2003, Mattis called the incident "the worst thing that happened" under his command.
Lt. Col. T. G. Taylor, who served as Mattis' spokesman from 2010 through 2013, has stated that the Secretary of Defense believes that torture is not only immoral but ineffective. He said that Mattis' recommendation to Trump had illustrated his belief "that offering a modicum of friendship and humanity to someone in a desperate situation is more successful than physical torture."