In his first round of Sunday show interviews since the election, Vice President-elect Mike Pence did not rule out the possibility that President-elect Donald Trump could reinstate waterboarding as an interrogation technique during his administration.
On CBS Sunday, “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson brought up Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his comments Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum. At a panel discussion there, McCain vehemently insisted that any attempt to bring back waterboarding, which simulates drowning, would be quickly challenged in court, the Associated Press reported.
Dickerson then played a clip of McCain's remarks at the Halifax summit from Saturday.
“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,” McCain said, emphasizing certain words with a point of his finger, to applause. “My God, what does it say about America if we're going to inflict torture on people?”
Pence seemed unfazed after he watched the video.
“Well, I have great respect for Senator McCain,” he told Dickerson. “What I can tell you is that going forward, as he outlined in that famous speech in Ohio, is that a President Donald Trump is going to focus on confronting and defeating radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to this country.”
“We're going to have a president again who will never say what we'll never do,” Pence added.
Trump said during the campaign that he would reinstate the use of waterboarding against terrorism suspects — a practice that Congress made illegal after its use during the George W. Bush administration.
Torture is banned under U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. On Jan. 22, 2009, newly elected President Obama signed three executive orders that reversed Bush administration policies on the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists. One of the orders, signed two days after Obama took office, banned the use of waterboarding and other methods he called torture.
"First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture," Obama said at a press conference about the executive orders. He added that "America's moral example must be the bedrock and beacon of our global leadership."
The Bush administration and the CIA had previously denied torturing detainees. In a 2009 report by The Washington Post, then outgoing CIA director Michael V. Hayden said that waterboarding was used only on three high-level al-Qaeda operatives, all before 2004.
At a rally last November in Columbus, Ohio, Trump promised to reinstate waterboarding and perhaps other methods of torture beyond it.
“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat,” Trump said as the crowd cheered. “And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work.”
Trump repeated “It works” multiple times.
“Believe me, it works,” he told the Columbus crowd. “And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway, for what they're doing. It works.”
However, former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said after the election that Trump’s waterboarding remarks were just “campaign talk,” according to CNN.
McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has for decades spoken out against extreme interrogation techniques.
In an account first published in the May 14, 1973 issue of U.S. News & World Report, McCain described being tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Among other cruelties, he recounted being beaten every two to three hours until his left arm was broken and his ribs were cracked.
After four days, McCain said he at last gave in and signed a "confession" to crimes he had committed against the North Vietnamese people.
"I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point," he wrote. "I had reached mine."
In a 2011 guest column for The Post, McCain wrote that information gathered from those tortured is not always reliable, and that use torture could put future American prisoners of war at greater danger:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.
Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops, who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and al-Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more conventional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of Trump's many opponents during the Republican presidential primary race, followed Pence on “Face the Nation” and said he agreed with McCain.
“We should telegraph to the world that we're better than this,” Paul told Dickerson.
Pence also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” where the issue of waterboarding did not come up. Host Chris Wallace raised increasing criticism “from all sides” about Trump and his potential conflicts of interest.
Already there have been numerous reports of such potential conflicts. Some have expressed concern that Trump's many hotels, condos and golf courses could be venues through which people could curry favor with the incoming president. Last week, dozens of foreign diplomats gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, and at least one said that not staying at the hotel might be considered “rude,” The Post Washington reported.
Pictures showing that Trump's daughter Ivanka was present at a meeting last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also raised questions about the separation between the Trump administration and his business dealings. Trump has said that three of his adult children, including Ivanka, will take over his businesses after he assumes office, and that they have not requested high-level governmental security clearances.