Last Saturday, President Elect Donald Trump met with a number of prominent American officials as he continued to flesh out his cabinet appointments prior to taking office this coming January. Among these meetings was one with retired Marine General James Mattis. Mattis, a favorite among veterans, is being considered for the role of Secretary of Defense.
During Trump’s turbulent campaign, he made headlines by claiming that, if elected, he would reinstate the controversial intelligence gathering technique known in many circles as “waterboarding.” Waterboarding is a method of simulating drowning in the mind of a suspect, convincing them that their life is in danger so they are more willing to admit guilt or divulge secrets they would not otherwise volunteer. Although waterboarding is not life-threatening, the experience is so difficult to endure that many have taken to calling it torture; citing the international community’s definition of torture’s inclusion of “mock executions” as grounds for the technique’s ban.
Republican Senator and Chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, John McCain, recently spoke out in harsh criticism of the practice, and of Donald Trump’s stance that it should be reinstated; “If they started waterboarding, I swear to you there’s a whole bunch of us that would have them in court in a New York minute,” said McCain. “So I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do, we will not waterboard, we will not torture. We will not torture people.” McCain, once a prisoner of war himself, also cited legislation passed by Congress last year that limits interrogation methods to those listed in the Army Field Manual.
Trump’s stance on waterboarding, on the other hand, has been historically opposed to McCain’s position, stating at a campaign event this past spring, “Torture works. OK, folks? Believe me, it works. OK? And waterboarding is your minor form, but we should go much stronger than waterboarding.”
After meeting with General James Mattis this past weekend, however, Trump emerged with a less fortified position in favor of the practice, and a newfound respect for the general that disagreed with him during what was, in effect, a job interview for one of the most powerful positions on the planet.
“General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?'” Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday. “He said — I was surprised — he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.'”
The President-elect continued, “I’m not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard. But I’ll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer.”
Although Trump was quick to say that the discussion didn’t change his mind, he did go on to say that, as president, he would be willing to allow the views of the American people to sway his decision on the matter.
“It’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that,” he said. “But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say.”
Mattis would be required to seek a waiver from Congress in order to accept the position as Secretary of Defense. The National Defense Authorization Act requires a seven-year waiting period upon separation from active service before being appointed Defense Secretary and Mattis has only been retired for three. His popularity among members of Congress lead many to believe such a waiver could be easily attained, however, with one aid to the House Armed Services Committee telling CNN that they’ve already begun conducting a review to assess how such a waiver could be granted.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press