Donald Trump says that “torture works” and that if elected president, he will bring back waterboarding.
In fact, he says he will allow techniques “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding and use them regardless of effectiveness on terrorist organizations like ISIS because they “deserve it.”
By advocating that the United States brings back torture, Trump again demonstrates his astute understanding of the American electorate. Fifty-three percent of Americans say that torturing terrorists can be justified. Polling only Republicans, the slice of the electorate Trump is trying to charm in this primary season, the number is even larger, over 70%.
One reason behind these large numbers can be gathered from psychological studies in which individuals support the use of torture when the subject is categorized as a terrorist, regardless of its intelligence value.
It may be smart politics to support torture, but Trump’s eye-for-an-eye approach to defeat terrorist networks will make the United States less, not more, safe and the American electorate needs to know why, before more ballots are cast.
In fact, today most government officials, regardless of party affiliation, experts and scientists agree with Republican Sen. John McCain that torture “compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good.”
Importantly, there is also widespread agreement that American use of torture serves as a recruitment magnet for the world’s terrorist networks. Several high ranking government officials note how al Qaeda use Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay as symbolic recruiting tools to reinforce anti-American sentiment and grow their numbers.
In short, Trump’s torture policy will fuel the same terrorist organizations that he wants to destroy.
In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques — the methods Trump says he would reinstall if elected. Instead Obama favors methods that glean intelligence without sacrificing America’s ideals, such as a rapport-building approach that is far more likely to elicit good and earlier intelligence than torture.
Trump is not alone in wanting to bring back torture to the U.S. foreign policy toolkit. Though perhaps not as vocal, other Republican candidates consider a return to the use of torture if elected. Marco Rubio defends the Bush administration’s authorization of torture, while Ted Cruz claims that waterboarding doesn’t qualify as torture.
The United States has a dark recent past on torture and loose talk by Republicans — particularly Trump as the party’s frontrunner — on torture damages the country’s ability to repair its reputation abroad. More importantly, there are direct links between torture and making America less safe. The policy and talk thereof should hence be returned to the abyss that it was buried in by President Obama over seven years ago.
This piece originally ran in CNN, February 23, 2016