Trump’s Waterboarding Fantasy Hits a Road Bump During Confirmation Hearings

Before the confirmation hearings began, Donald Trump predicted with his usual bombast that every one of his nominees will be confirmed. Trump was equally certain in March 2016 the military would obey an order to waterboard or torture by other methods, even though it’s illegal.

“If I say do it, they’re gonna do it,” Trump said. “That’s what leadership is all about.”

If testimony by some of his nominees this week is an indicator, Trump’s pledge to torture people may, thankfully, be in trouble.

Trump can probably count on Rex Tillerson’s support since he would not describe Putin’s actions in Aleppo was a war crime during questioning by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)

Mother Jones reported on the breathtaking exchange after Tillson said he would be “uncomfortable” with labeling Putin a war criminal.

Tillerson claimed that he did not have sufficient information to charge Putin with committing war crimes, even when pressed with the Russian president’s record in Aleppo and evidence he authorized the use of battlefield weapons to kill civilians. Tillerson also refused to say if Putin was behind the killing of dissidents and journalists in Russia.

“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion,” Tillerson said. “I understand that there is a body of record in the public domain—I’m sure there is a body of record in the classified domain. And I think that in order to deal with a serious question like this, I would want to be fully informed before advising the president.”

So it appears Trump has one backer if Tillerson’s nomination isn’t derailed by Rubio and possibly others like John McCain.

Back in November, McCain gave a blistering warning to Trump’s stances on waterboarding and torture. “I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do. We will not waterboard,” McCain told an audience at the annual Halifax International Security Forum. “We will not torture people … It doesn’t work.”

Trump’s choice to head the CIA, Mike Pompeo is iffy. He did say he doesn’t support bringing torture back in an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Per Mother Jones’ David Corn:

“If you were ordered by the president,” she asked, “to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside the Army field manual”—meaning waterboarding and other methods now banned by law—”would you comply?”
 
“Absolutely not,” Pompeo said. He pointed out that he had voted for the law that banned waterboarding and other acts of torture that the CIA had used during the Bush-Cheney years. “I will always comply with the law,” Pompeo declared. (In 2014, however, he claimed that the interrogation techniques in use during the Bush administration were not torture.)”

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Pompeo’s commitment to comply with the Army field manual, For one thing, as the above reflects, he said the Bush waterboarding program was within the law.

Pompeo also said he can’t imagine Trump asking him to do such as thing, despite Trump’s pledge to bring back water boarding and worse.

More certain trouble is found in Jeff Sessions concession that waterboarding is torture and illegal during questioning by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Trump’s nominee for Defense, Retired General James Mattis is also on record, prior to his confirmation hearing as an opponent of waterboarding. Some reports suggest the General changed Trump’s views on torture, but that is contradicted in the transcript of a New York Times interview Trump gave after his meeting with Mattis.

HABERMAN: And on torture? Where are you — and waterboarding?
 
TRUMP: So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy. In fact, I met with a number of other generals, they say he’s the finest there is. He is being seriously, seriously considered for secretary of defense, which is — I think it’s time maybe, it’s time for a general. Look at what’s going on. We don’t win, we can’t beat anybody, we don’t win anymore. At anything. We don’t win on the border, we don’t win with trade, we certainly don’t win with the military. General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ 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. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy. And when he said that, I’m not saying it changed my mind. [An earlier version made a mistake in transcription. Mr. Trump said “changed my mind,” not “changed my man.”] Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard.

John Kelly, Trump’s nominee for the Department of Homeland Security also opposes waterboarding.

“I don’t think we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques,” he said, agreeing that the Geneva Conventions should continue to serve as a guide for the US.”

Granted, there is room to suggest that Trump nominees simply told committee members what they want to hear. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened. The likelihood of that being the case with Trump’s nominees is more likely since Donald Trump is a proven liar. Additionally, some nominees, like Pompeo, made contradictory statements on waterboarding – including in his confirmation hearing testimony.

However, it’s also clear that Trump’s assertion that everyone will just follow orders, including illegal orders because “that is what leadership is all about” is meeting some road bumps.

We’re left with watching their words closely and their actions more closely – despite Kellyanne Conway’s objections.