Trump, waterboarding and illegal orders

It’s interesting that Bill Maher found nothing wrong when General Michael Hayden said that, should Trump become President, the U.S. military would refuse to follow any orders to waterboard detainees.

As I pointed out last week, waterboarding is now illegal, having been made so in last November’s defense bill. It restricts any arm or agent of the U.S. government from using any techniques not in the U.S. Army interrogation manual.

This isn’t about whether or not the CIA’s method of waterboarding is torture. It’s not in the manual, and that alone now makes it illegal. Everyone in the military knows that you cannot follow illegal orders. There’s nothing new here.

But it doesn’t matter all that much. The next Congress can pass another law to make it possible. They won’t do that easily. It will require the right circumstances, but, sadly, such things are inevitable when the world is as it is.

ISIS is already using chemical weapons. They’ll have biological weapons sooner than we wish, and that’s just the start.

Democrats were driven by politics to oppose waterboarding, and to make it sound a lot worse than it is. They will flip the other way the moment it makes sense to them, but continue to insist that the new techniques aren’t as bad as the old ones. Whatever sells.

Once the law changes, someone in (or working for) the government will do it knowing that it is legal. It just takes a President who has their back.

Does that mean I think it’ll happen that quickly? Not really. The enhanced interrogation techniques came about because we knew relatively little about Al-Qaeda. They weren’t needed as much toward the end of the Bush administration, and even less after we let other countries keep and interrogate more of the prisoners. I can imagine Trump letting that continue.

On the other hand…

Trump also said he’d “take out the family members.” It’s doubtful he meant it, and impossible to believe the threat could be bad enough that intentionally killing civilians becomes legal. But could they be detained temporarily? Sure. We’ve already detained family members during both the Bush and Obama administrations.


It is interesting that this story also popped up that one of the “alleged” terrorists is claiming mistreatment at the hands of the Guantanamo guard force. Noise and vibrations are supposedly keeping him from sleeping and praying.

There’s a part of me that would like to think such things happen, but who seriously believes President Obama could allow such a thing that’s almost certainly against the law? It’s clearly absurd.

And yet the same people who applaud General Hayden’s statement that the military would (quite naturally) refuse an illegal order, will then take this “alleged” terrorist’s claims seriously.


Later [03/05/16]: As I thought, Trump needed to backtrack:

Trump told The Wall Street Journal he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.”

I’ve got other problems with Trump, but I never saw this as a big deal. He made his fortune through his willingness to navigate New York City’s convoluted property laws and union regulations. I never thought he’d be a Mussolini.

Bluster has its place. Enhanced interrogation was mostly bluster (just as the criticism it received was mostly a sham). Even our current interrogation methods will work better if the terrorists know that a man like Trump is running things.

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