U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS...
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On torture, Trump struggles to keep his story straight

Two weeks ago, during his confirmation hearings, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was asked whether he’d comply if Donald Trump ordered him to implement a torture program. After saying he would “absolutely not” tolerate such a policy, Pompeo added that he “can’t imagine” Trump even asking.

Perhaps Pompeo needs to expand his imagination.

Trump has long been an enthusiastic proponent of torture, and his vigorous support for it has only intensified since taking office. He argued as recently as late yesterday that he doesn’t consider waterboarding torture, all evidence to the contrary be damned.

Today, at a White House press conference alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump said he wants to torture and believes it works, but he’s decided to defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis on the matter.
“[Mattis] has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding, or however you want to define it – enhanced interrogation I guess would be a word that a lot of … words that a lot of people would like to use. I don’t necessarily agree. But I would tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power. He’s an expert,” Trump said. He called Mattis a “general’s general,” whom he would rely upon.

“I happen to feel that it does work. I’ve been open about that for a long period of time. But I am going with our leaders. And we’re going to win with or without. But I do disagree.”
As is often the case with Trump, it’s hard to decipher what the president’s trying to say here, but I think he’s saying that he believes in torturing people, but he won’t because Secretary Mattis doesn’t support torture – and the president has decided to follow the lead of his cabinet secretary.

As a rule, presidents are supposed to establish the policy and the Pentagon is supposed to follow, but in the Trump era, with an amateur president who occasionally realizes he’s in over his head, apparently that dynamic has been flipped.

The president added, “I would tell you [Mattis] will override [Trump’s position on torture] because I am giving him that power.”

I don’t know if a Commander in Chief, at least in modern American history, has ever ceded authority over security policy to one of his subordinates like this. Are there other executive powers the president intends to outsource?

It’s also unclear if Trump has extended a similar veto power to Pompeo, which matters a great deal in practical terms – since in the Bush/Cheney era, it was the CIA that was responsible for implementing much of the administration’s “enhanced interrogations” policy.

Either way, if you voted for Trump because you believed his promises about torture, it looks like you’re going to be disappointed, at least for now.


Donald Trump and Torture

On torture, Trump struggles to keep his story straight