Current CIA Director John Brennan insisted yesterday that if ordered by a President Donald Trump to conduct waterboarding "or worse" on captured jihadists, he would adamantly refuse and defy that order:
“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure,” Brennan said....
When asked specifically about waterboarding Brennan could not have been clearer.
“Absolutely, I would not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again,” he said.
Why does Brennan's declaration matter less than a November ballot with Hillary's and Trump's names on them? Because the only way that he will still be CIA Director next year is if Mrs. Clinton succeeds Barack Obama (or if O decides to stay in office indefinitely), in which case he'll never be asked to waterboard anybody. I can't picture him sticking, or being allowed to stick, around under a Trump or Cruz presidency. So what he's saying here isn't what he will do, but what he urges his successor to do should the November election not turn out the way he wants it to.
Trump, as usual, fired back substancelessly on his daily Fox & Friends call in this morning:
Donald Trump Monday morning dismissed CIA Director John Brennan's refusal to allow waterboarding, even if ordered by a future president, as "ridiculous," given the threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorists.
"They chop off heads and they drown people in cages with fifty in a cage and big, steel heavy cages, drop them right into the water, drown people," Trump told Fox News' Fox and Friends show. "And we can't waterboard and we can't do anything, and you know, we're playing on different fields.
"Can you imagine these ISIS people sitting around eating, and talking about this country won't allow waterboarding and they just chopped off fifty heads?" Trump said later in the interview.
No, I can't, actually. But, as usual, Trump didn't get into any policy detail, but remained at the two-dimensional, sloganistic surface that is all he knows. And there is depth to this question that needs to be understood before being able to make a defense of waterboarding as an interrogation technique - which is eminently makeable, as Senator Cruz did two months ago:
Waterboarding, by the legal definition of the term, is not torture, as a lot of us argued throughout the Bush years, because it does not physically harm the subject. It is manifestly unpleasant, which is why it is an enhanced interrogation technique, and it should not be used punitively or gratuitously, but in specifically designated circumstances, like a "ticking time bomb", 24-esque where an imminent threat justifies its use. It is a tactic of last-resort, not standard operating procedure. And that's the only context in which the Bushies ever used it, for all the leftwingnut hysteria that was hyped up about it. And it is very effective, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can attest.
This, however, is NOT the case for waterboarding that Trump makes:
Trump’s attitude, though, is that jihadis[ts] deserve waterboarding even if it doesn’t produce useful intelligence. He supports it as punishment, not just as a pressure tactic to get information. He also likes to point out how much more brutal ISIS’s tactics are, which is his way of demanding that the west behave more symmetrically. At the very least, he implies, torturing a few of them will make them think twice about the consequences of attacking America.
That sounds like cruelty and barbarism for its own sake, as opposed to being directed towards a specific tactical or strategic objective, like gathering actionable intelligence. In which case what would it accomplish other than to turn us INTO them? Besides which, REAL torture has been proven over a long period of time to be a dubious means of information-extraction. Whether it would serve as a deterrent to the Global Jihad is debatable, but I tend to think it wouldn't because (1) they're a death cult anyway and are unlikely to be intimidated by torture tales as we would be, and more to the point (2) what matters is fighting and defeating them "over there," which is the only way we can reestablish "strong horse" status. Or, put another way, it's doubtful that terrorists can be terrorized by matching immolation and beheading and crucifixion, et al for immolation and beheading and crucifixion, et al. It wouldn't provide them any additional incentive to try to kill us all that the Qur'an doesn't already, but it wouldn't "make them think twice" about it, either.
And then there is the fact that REAL torture is illegal, and any Trump order along those lines would be unlawful by definition, and U.S. personnel would be legally required to disobey it. Would Trump really give such an order? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that he mentions it - "and a lot worse" - tells me that that is his usual hyperbolic exaggeration to make a pander in lieu of having any knowledge with which to make a serious argument. "Jihadists are bad, and I'm going to [bleep] them worse than that weakling Cruz!," in essence. Until he clinches the GOP nomination, after which he'll turn into whatever else he has to pretend to be to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That's why I keep pointing out the serial instances where the REAL Trump keeps popping up whenever he's challenged in any way that reveal his synthesis of roaring ignorance and New York liberal instincts, with not a smidgen of constitutional conservatism in sight.
This is also why the Left fears Cruz vastly more than they do Trump. The latter has gone so ludicrously overboard on this topic that it'd be easy to unify the entire intel community against any such order he would give, no matter how unexpectedly modest. But the former has been so unequivocally clear and judicious in the isolatedly necessary circumstances under which he would order enhanced interrogation techniques that that very reasonableness would elicit CIA cooperation. "We don't want to do it, but we will if we have to" versus "Lubyanka on the Potomac". Which sounds the more palatable to y'all?
And THAT gets us back to what I've been saying is Trump's true mission, wittingly or unwittingly, all along: To put over the Left's vile caricature of constitutional conservatism as the real thing and discredit the Right for years to come.
It's the difference between being a true counter-revolutionary and a reactionary.
I know which sounds more palatable to me.