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“Let’s Make Torture Great Again”: Donald Trump Thinks America Must Commit War Crimes As A Matter Of Principle

Hours after Tuesday’s massacre at Ataturk International Airport, Donald Trump called on America to “fight fire with fire.” The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Ohio that, while he likes waterboarding, it probably isn’t “tough enough.”

“We have to be so strong,” Trump said. “We have to fight so viciously. And violently because we’re dealing with violent people viciously.”

On Thursday night in New Hampshire, Trump reiterated his belief that America should hold itself to the same standard as a fascist death cult. Asked by local station NH1 to respond to Senator John McCain’s claim that torture is “not the American way,” Trump replied:

Well it’s not the American way to have heads chopped off and have people drowning in steel cages … And so we can have our disagreements, but we’re going to have to get much tougher as a country. We’re going to have to be a lot sharper and we’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable almost.

It’s worth remembering that, for the Republican standard-bearer, ordering the military to hunt down and kill the wives and children of suspected terrorists falls under the “thinkable” column.

That Donald Trump will happily court human beings’ worst instincts for political gain is not breaking news. What’s interesting about his renewed support for deliberate war crimes is that there’s no evidence such heinousness even has a political upside. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the American people were scared. Eight in ten told pollsters from the Washington Post and ABC News that they were afraid of lone-wolf terrorism. But those respondents also overwhelmingly preferred Clinton’s response to the tragedy over Trump’s, and had more faith in her capacity to handle terrorism than they did in the mogul’s. This marks a departure from past campaign cycles, in which Republican candidates have consistently enjoyed higher marks than their Democratic rivals on matters of national security.

Part of this change can be explained by the unusually stark discrepancy between the two presumptive nominees’ levels of foreign-policy experience. But in the previous Washington Post–ABC News poll, taken in May, Trump was only three points behind Clinton on the issue of terrorism; he fell 11 points behind her in the wake of Orlando. Thus, it appears that the American people find a former secretary of State calmly laying out a detail-oriented plan for reducing terrorism to be more comforting than a real-estate mogul shouting that the nation must chose between his radical agenda and certain doom.

In light of this finding, it seems unfair to assume that Trump’s pledge to do the “unthinkable” is motivated by crass political calculations. Rather, pundits should give the presumptive GOP nominee the benefit of the doubt, and assume his support for war crimes is a genuine expression of a deeply held faith in the cleansing power of sadistic violence.

 

By: Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, National Security, Torture | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Deeply Unhealthy Support For Barbarism”: Donald Trump Sees A Problem Only Torture Can Solve

The latest reports out of Turkey point to an increasing death toll following the terrorist attack at Istanbul’s busy Ataturk Airport, with 41 deaths and more than 230 injuries. U.S. officials, of course, have condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms.

In our presidential election, however, Donald Trump wasn’t satisfied with a condemnation.

The presumptive Republican nominee appears to have resisted the urge to say, “Called it!” which tends to be his go-to reaction in response to most major events. Trump did, however, manage to respond to events in Turkey in a deeply unsettling way.

Donald Trump on Tuesday prescribed fighting “fire with fire” when it comes to battling terrorism, seemingly making the case for using similarly brutal tactics as terror groups like ISIS have in the past.

The GOP’s presumptive nominee has been outspoken on enhanced interrogation, telling Tuesday’s enthusiastic crowd once again that he doesn’t think waterboarding is “tough enough” and that it’s “peanuts” compared to what terrorists have done in the past.

Trump seemed particularly annoyed that the United States feels the need to act lawfully. “We have laws; they don’t have laws,” the GOP candidate said last night in Ohio, adding, “Their laws say you can do anything you want and the more vicious you are the better.”

From there, Trump transitioned to emphasizing his support for barbarism. “You have to fight fire with fire,” he declared. “We have to be so strong. We have to fight so viciously. And violently because we’re dealing with violent people viciously.”

Trump added, “Can you imagine [ISIS members] sitting around the table or wherever they’re eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don’t do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads? They probably think we’re weak, we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing, we have no leadership. You know, you have to fight fire with fire.”

In a CNN interview, Trump went on to say he intends to “change our law on, you know, the waterboarding thing” in order to “be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.”

Or put another way, the Republican presidential hopeful evidently sees value in the United States becoming more like our enemies. Donald J. Trump genuinely seems to believe torture, chest-thumping rhetoric, and posturing are the foundations of an effective national security policy.

Anything else might look “weak.”

Here’s the part of this that Trump struggles to understand: crises are leadership tests. When the pressure’s on, would-be presidents have an opportunity to demonstrate what kind of leadership they can and would provide if elected.

In this case, Trump sees an ISIS attack on a NATO ally and his first instinct is to effectively say, “This looks like a problem torture can solve.”

Postscript: In case anyone’s forgotten, when the Senate Intelligence Committee examined the Bush/Cheney administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” senators found torture was ineffective, illegal, brutal, and “provided extensive inaccurate information.” Trump, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, National Security, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Morass Of Human Rights Abuses”: Gitmo Is A Stain On Our Reputation For Upholding Human Rights

In his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to close the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where torture has been practiced and due process flouted. The reviled facility is a stain on our reputation as a beacon for human rights and as a role model in a world where the innate dignity of the individual is still not universally accepted.

With his pledge to shut it down, Obama was merely building on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who knew the facility was a source of embarrassment for our allies and a recruiting tool for our enemies. Back then, Obama’s view was shared by his rival, GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also pledged to close the prison.

But as president, Obama badly bungled the process, failing to make closing Guantanamo a priority and misjudging the inflammatory politics that are associated with the suspects who are held there. He was deserted not only by McCain, but also by Democrats who claimed — speciously — that bringing suspected terrorists into the continental United States was much too dangerous to consider.

In the final year of his presidency, Obama has returned to the incendiary politics of Guantanamo, promising again to shutter the prison. He has less chance of success now than he did when he began eight years ago. Since then, congressional Republicans have grown more rabid in their opposition (to everything), the GOP electorate has sunk into a miasma of xenophobia, and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State have risen up to haunt our nightmares. Congress has passed laws making it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States.

Still, Obama is right to bring the facility to the top of the national agenda. He has little leverage but his bully pulpit, little authority but the moral force of this righteous crusade. That’s a start.

From the beginning, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has represented the worst instincts of American leaders. In 2002, placing the first of nearly 800 terror suspects eventually held there, the Bush administration argued they were not subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court later disagreed, forcing the Bush administration to reverse itself, that arrogant and shortsighted abrogation of international norms gave our enemies good reason to call us hypocrites. And that was just the beginning of an appalling slide into a morass of human rights abuses: Some prisoners were tortured; some were held for years without formal charges; many were not, as the Bush administration initially claimed, captured on the battlefield, but rather turned over by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for money. Those men may never have raised arms against the United States or its allies.

Even the Bush administration eventually yielded to pressure and released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Obama has continued to reduce the population; an estimated 91 detainees remain.

But the very existence of the facility — “Gitmo,” as it’s often called — remains a blight on our reputation, a pall over the shining city on a hill. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said last Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of (the) rule of law.”

He clearly means to use the last year of his tenure to keep pressure on Congress to close it, probably by speeding up the exodus of detainees. (While a handful of former detainees have returned to the battlefield, the vast majority of them have not.) He believes he can persuade other countries to accept an additional 80 or so, leaving only a few hard-core cases, men who are deemed too dangerous to release.

However, the cost of keeping them at Guantanamo would be exorbitant, as much as $10 million per detainee per year, according to some estimates. For a Congress that claims to be fiscally prudent, it ought to make a lot more sense to bring those men to a maximum-security prison in the United States, where they’d have no chance of escape.

That would keep us safe without destroying our ideals.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 27, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Human Rights, Republicans, Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Doubt It Works?”: Donald Trump Wants To Reclassify Waterboarding So It’s No Longer A War Crime For Him To Order It

While there was some discussion among the Republican candidates at Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire as to whether or not waterboarding was a form of torture (it is), Donald Trump went below and beyond everyone else on stage to insist that not only would he reinstitute waterboarding against America’s enemies, he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” as well. Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, Trump elaborated on his position and confirmed that he would “go through a process and get [waterboarding] declassified” as a war crime in order to use it, “at a minimum,” against ISIS if he’s elected president. So far, Trump has not explained what forms of torture he would bring back that are worse than waterboarding, which is essentially simulated drowning. “You can say what you want I have no doubt that it does work in terms of information and other things,” Trump insisted to Tapper, though it’s worth noting that torture doesn’t actually work when it comes to gathering useful intelligence from prisoners.

Regarding the rest of the GOP field’s responses to the torture question Saturday night, Ted Cruz stood by the Bush-administration’s discredited assurance that waterboarding was a form of enhanced interrogation, not torture, though either way he wouldn’t “bring it back in any sort of widespread use.” Jeb Bush changed his position, from saying he wouldn’t rule it out, to last night saying that he was happy with Congress’s ban on waterboarding as it was. Marco Rubio dodged the question by insisting it would be inappropriate to discuss his future plans for America’s interrogation techniques. Regardless, though Rubio missed the Senate vote on banning torture, he has said he would have voted against the ban, and on Saturday night championed the idea of filling up Guantánamo with new prisoners to interrogate.

Though he was not asked about it on Saturday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has previously said he did not consider waterboarding torture and would not rule it out as an interrogation method. Carly Fiorina supports the practice as well. Ben Carson has made a statement that seems to suggest he would consider waterboarding prisoners, too. It’s not clear what John Kasich’s position is.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 7, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Enhanced Interrogation, Torture, Waterboarding | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Stupid, Bone-Deep Republican Orthodoxy”: The Quack Science Behind Donald Trump’s Love Of Torture

Torture is utterly worthless for interrogation. This fact is now established beyond doubt, thanks to extensive scholarly investigation and specific investigations conducted by the Senate and independent groups.

And yet, vastly too many people, from the average citizen up to top political elites, still believe otherwise. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson recently argued that torture should again become American policy.

Sadly, yet another work on the pointlessness of torture is rather timely. This time it’s Shane O’Mara, a Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Dublin College. His book is called Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation.

I have previously recounted Professor Darius Rejali’s argument against the utility of torture. He builds a comprehensive case, from simple mechanical problems with inflicting pain on someone to how it corrodes the professionalism of organizations that practice it. O’Mara, by contrast, restricts himself to the effects of torture on the nervous system, which are explored in extreme detail.

He does this through an exploration of the notorious Torture Memos, written by Bush administration lawyer John Yoo. The memos provide a view of the Bush administration’s original pro-torture case, as well as a reasonable approximation of the lay arguments in favor of torture. In O’Mara’s work, each memo section dealing with a particular torture technique is compared to a thorough investigation of the corresponding studies.

In each case, the memos are found to be utterly disconnected from the relevant scientific literature. The psychiatric and medical evidence is very complex, but it basically boils down to the same basic problem with using torture for interrogation, just manifested in different ways. Interrogation is the act of trying to induce a captive to recite the contents of his memory, but torture deeply damages the memory functions of the brain.

Memory is complicated and delicate, prone to faults and breakdown. Eyewitness reports are unreliable and easy to influence. More surprising, it is extremely easy to induce false confessions — and not only through torture. Simply hurting someone until they agree to to sign a confession they know to be false generally works well (as the Chicago police department could tell you). But it’s trivially easy to get people in laboratory experiments to actually believe they have committed crimes they did not do in reality, with well-placed suggestions and social pressure.

Extreme stress, such as that brought on by severe pain or drowning panic (eg., from waterboarding) directly damages an already shaky and unreliable memory system. Many experiments have demonstrated that “extreme behavioral stressors caused grave memory deficits: in particular, impairment in visuospatial capacity and recall of previously learned information,” writes O’Mara. Extreme heat or cold similarly disrupt brain function — and can even result in permanent brain damage.

Sleep deprivation can be even worse for memory function. Extreme lack of sleep — the memos state that prisoners can be kept awake for up to 180 hours — induces a state akin to a major psychiatric disorder. Victims become profoundly disorientated and incoherent, and often hallucinate vividly. That it might be problematic for an interrogation method to induce an inability to distinguish between reality and imagination seems not to have occurred to anyone: “The vast empirical literature showing these deleterious effects is uncited in toto in the Torture Memos.”

Worse still, there in an additive effect when such techniques are combined — sleep deprivation plus hypothermia is worse for brain function than either one in isolation, and so on. This, naturally, was the default approach to CIA interrogation in the Bush years.

Torturing for information is like trying to build a sand castle with a firehose, and it is patently obvious that Yoo (and by extension, the rest of the Bush torturers) did not do the slightest scholarly investigation of it. However, Yoo adopts a confident, expert tone, often stating categorically what the medical literature does and does not show (constantly getting it wrong), and citing all manner of empirical data — just none that are remotely relevant. It shows every possible sign of an amoral legal hack backfilling to justify a preconceived decision, and papering over his utter medical ignorance with bluster and citation of half-understood or straight-up fabricated evidence.

It’s a sad irony that a great deal of this evidence on torture comes from experiments on U.S. soldiers being trained to survive enemy capture — but there is virtually no science on actual interrogation practices. Indeed, ordinary police are given a mere handful of hours in interrogation instruction, while the CIA actively threw out the government’s best interrogators. Of all the trillions spent on the war on terror, it’s beyond disgraceful that none of it managed to finance a couple studies on quality interrogation.

At any rate, as O’Mara notes, the pro-torture case, from Yoo on down, rests entirely on folk wisdom — probably instilled by one of a hundred action movies or TV shows, where the tough hero saves the world from a nuclear explosion by a quick and easy application of brutal violence. Such portrayals are as immoral as they are unrealistic.

That brings me back to Trump. In his justification for bringing torture back, he inadvertently let slip one of the real lizard-brain motivators behind torture: a desire for retribution. “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing,” he recently said at a rally. This attitude is not just monstrous (recall that a great many people tortured by the U.S. were entirely innocent) but dangerous. It places the desire for vengeance against suspected terrorists above the need for quality interrogation and intelligence work. It’s stupid, childish, and bone-deep Republican orthodoxy.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, December 7, 2015

December 8, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Donald Trump, Torture | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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