Donald Trump has used his first TV interview as president to say he believes torture “absolutely” works and that the US should “fight fire with fire.”
Speaking to ABC News, Trump said he would defer to the defence secretary, James Mattis, and CIA director, Mike Pompeo, to determine what can and cannot be done legally to combat the spread of terrorism.
But asked about the efficacy of tactics such as waterboarding, Trump said: “absolutely I feel it works.”
“When Isis is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times. Would I feel strongly about waterboarding. As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire.”
Trump said he asked intelligence chiefs earlier this week whether torture works. “The answer was yes, absolutely,” he said.
He added that terrorist groups “chop off the citizens’ or anybody’s heads in the Middle East, because they’re Christian or Muslim or anything else ... we have that and we’re not allowed to do anything. We’re not playing on an even field.”
The interviews come after reports that Trump is preparing to sign an executive order that would reinstate the detention of terrorism suspects at facilities known as “black sites”.
This would remove limitations on coercive interrogation techniques set by a longstanding army field manual intended to ensure humane military interrogations, which is mostly compliant with the Geneva Conventions. Mattis and Pompeo were “blindsided” by reports of the draft order, Politico said citing sources.
Trump faces resistance to the prospect of the reintroduction of torture.
Senator John McCain, a torture survivor and co-author of a 2015 law barring the US security agencies from using interrogation techniques beyond those set out in the US army field manual, signalled his defiance, informs The Guardian.
“The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America,” said McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate armed services committee.
McCain referenced explicit guarantees from Pompeo and Mattis during their Senate confirmation proceedings to follow the interrogations law and the army field manual. “I am confident these leaders will be true to their word,” McCain said.
The former CIA head Leon Panetta, who gave the orders to close the agency’s black sites told the BBC that it would be a “mistake” to reintroduce enhance interrogation techniques and “damaging” to the reputation of the US. Panetta said torture was violation of the US values and the constitution.