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Team Trump: 'Mad Dog' general James Mattis set to be next secretary of defence

James Mattis led the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and views torture in a sceptical light
Called “Mad Dog” and “The Warrior Monk,” Mattis lugged 6,000 books with him to Iraq in 2004 (Reuters)

US President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine General James Mattis for defence secretary, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing unidentified people in Trump’s circle.

The newspaper said the announcement was likely to be made early next week.

Mattis, who is known for his frank talk, convinced Trump to re-think authorising the torture of detainees.

"He said: 'I've never found it to be useful'," Trump said, adding that Mattis advised building a rapport with detainees: "Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I'll do better."

In mid-November, Trump sat down with Mattis to discuss naming him defence secretary.

"I was very impressed by that answer," Trump told the New York Times in a marked U-turn from his campaign mantra: "Torture works, OK? Believe me, it works."

Mattis is a decorated general from the Marine Corps who has been praised by his colleagues in the Pentagon for the way he operated in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both Democrats and Republicans also have said positive things about him.

"Given the range of people who have been suggested, I think he will be a good choice," Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told Bloomberg.

“The president-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” a former senior Pentagon official told the Washington Post. “He’s a warrior, scholar and straight shooter - literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone and would certainly speak truth to this new commander in chief.”

Called “Mad Dog” and “The Warrior Monk,” Mattis lugged 6,000 books with him to Iraq in 2004 and was “known to carry books on Roman philosophy with him on every combat mission,” according to an NPR report.

The retired general has made several no-nonsense statements when he operated forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When talking with Iraqi military officers at the beginning of the Iraq invasion in 2003, he famously said: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f**k with me, I’ll kill you all.”

He also wrote a letter that was sent to each Marine before they deployed to Iraq, telling them to “engage their brain before their weapon”.

In order to take the job, Congress must override a law that says that those who have been in active duty in the past seven years cannot become defence secretaries. Only one exception to that rule has been granted: to General George Marshall in 1950.

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