The House GOP’s top official on the Armed Services Committee signaled on Thursday that he wants to bring back the threat of torture to help fight terrorists, referring to practices Donald Trump has also called for reviving on the campaign trail.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) stopped short of advocating a return to waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques that Congress outlawed last year as part of its annual defense policy bill.
But he stressed that the next commander-in-chief should “quit saying what we’re not going to do.”
“We have gone overboard in ruling out all sorts of options which only simplify the enemy’s calculations,” Thornberry said, responding to a question about torture during a rollout of the House GOP’s national security strategy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I am not for putting a bunch of things into law that we’re not going to do, I’m for leaving them guessing, and I think that is more effective.”
Thornberry has long maintained that specifying in law what interrogation techniques are and aren’t allowed is like handing terrorists a “training manual,” as he put it in one 2008 interview with NPR.
Last year, Congress tried to settle the long-running debate about the legality of torture by outlawing enhanced CIA interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, several months after a Senate investigation revealed such brutal practices were largely ineffective.
But Trump sparked new controversy this year when he argued “torture works.” He endorsed a return to waterboarding in interrogations of suspected terrorists and pledged to reintroduce other techniques that are “so much worse” and “much stronger.”
Trump later called for changing laws prohibiting torture in comments to CNN as well.
The episode sparked a strong backlash from public officials across the political spectrum, as well as current and former military and intelligence officials. Even CIA Director John Brennan said in an interview with NBC that he would refuse orders from a future president to carry out waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques.
Thornberry does not share Trump’s view that the laws on torture need to be rolled back, and prefaced his comments by noting that he “would advise the next commander-in-chief and all who serve in the military to abide by the law.”
But he wants the discussion around torture – particularly the part that takes options off the table – to end.
“I would also advise the next commander-in-chief and all people in the military to quit talking about it,” he said.