Skip to main content

Donald Trump says torture of prisoners 'absolutely' works

US president uses first television interview to say US has to 'fight fire with fire' amid reports of draft order to reinstate Bush-era tactics
Trump said Islamic State was 'medieval' and the US must 'fight fire with fire' (Reuters)

Donald Trump has said he "absolutely feels" torture works and that the United States must "fight fire with fire" in combatting the Islamic State, in comments made his first television interview as the president of the United States.

Speaking to ABC News late on Wednesday, Trump said he would defer to his defence secretary and CIA director to determine what can legally be used to combat terrorism. But asked about the effectiveness of torture techniques, such as waterboarding, Trump said: “absolutely I feel it works.”

Would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire - Donald Trump

“When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times. Would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire.”

Trump said he asked intelligence chiefs earlier this week whether torture works. “The answer was yes, absolutely,” he said.

Waterboarding was classed as cruel and inhumane by Obama administration, following scandal over the "enhanced interrogation" programme employed by the government of George W Bush during the so-called "war on terror".

A congressional report in 2014 stated that no discernable intelligence had been obtained from any of the methods employed in the programme.

Trump added that terrorist groups “chop off the citizens’ or anybody’s heads in the Middle East, because they’re Christian or Muslim or anything else ... we have that and we’re not allowed to do anything. We’re not playing on an even field.”

Executive draft order on black sites

The interview came after reports that Trump was preparing to sign an executive order that would reinstate the CIA's “black sites” - a network of secret prisons where terrorism suspects were held and tortured under the Bush administration.

The New York Times on Wednesday said the three-page order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants”, would revoke the Obama administration's closure of CIA secret prisons on foreign soil, block access to prisoners by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and allow "for the detention and trial of newly captured" prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The new US president vowed during his election campaign to bring back waterboarding and  "a hell of a lot worse" – not only because “torture works” but because "they deserve it anyway for what they do to us".

Trump has already faced opposition to the reported plan.

On Wednesday Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain pushed back at the news of the new draft order.

“The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law," McCain said in a statement. "We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America."

However, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday that the Trump administration did not write the document.

"My understanding is this was written by somebody who worked on the transition before who's not in the Trump administration. This is not a product of the administration," Ryan said in an interview with MSNBC.

Britain urged to shun Trump torture plan

The British government, which co-operated and colluded with the US during the Bush years, has refused to explicitly rule out co-operation in a new regime despite repeated calls.

At prime minister’s questions last week Andrew Tyrie, a senior Tory MP, said: “President Trump has repeatedly said he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. When she sees him on Friday, will the prime minister make it clear that in no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after 11 September?”

Katie Taylor, the deputy director at international human rights organisation Reprieve said Britain must act to ensure it is not dragged into a new Trump order.

“The CIA’s secret prison programme was one of the most shameful chapters in recent US history," she said.

"It saw men, women and even children kidnapped, abused and ‘rendered’ to dungeons around the world – causing untold damage to America’s reputation and security.

"It is astonishing that President Trump is seeking to turn back the clock and revive a programme that did such terrible damage to US interests.

“America’s allies must ensure they never again support a revived CIA torture programme. Britain’s prime minister must make clear to President Trump that the UK will not support torture or mistreatment of prisoners, and make clear to the British public what safeguards she will put in place when dealing with US agencies.”