Trump Wants to 'Compete' With ISIS on Torture, Waterboarding

President-elect Donald Trump. John Locher/AP
President-elect Donald Trump. John Locher/AP

Donald Trump said Sunday that he favored changing U.S. military and international laws against torture and waterboarding that ISIS ignores.

"I would like to strengthen the laws so that we can better compete" with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS TV's "Face the Nation."

Citing ISIS' beheadings of U.S. prisoners and other brutal tactics, Trump said, "We have to play the game the way they're playing the game. You're not going to win if we're soft and they're -- they have no rules."

On waterboarding, Trump said that the law should be changed "at a minimum to allow that." Waterboarding was one of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" previously used by the United States.

President Obama has banned waterboarding by U.S. personnel in interrogations.

In giving his latest position on torture and waterboarding, Trump said, "I think our priorities are mixed up. I happen to think we should use something stronger than what we have" in interrogating prisoners to extract intelligence.

In response to criticism of his "torture works" campaign statements, and the possibility that U.S. troops would be duty-bound to disobey unlawful orders to torture and waterboard, Trump appeared to have backed off last week.

He had said in a campaign debate last Thursday that, as president, the troops would follow his lead, even if it meant disobeying the law.

"I've always been a leader. I've never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about," Trump said.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump reversed course: "I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that, as president, I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities."

In a news conference on Saturday, Trump made remarks similar to those that aired in the Sunday appearance on "Face the Nation." "I want to make those laws stronger so we can better compete with this vicious group of animals," he said.

In the interview Sunday, Trump was not asked directly whether "competing" with ISIS would betray American values and the codes of honor of all the service branches.

In a Senate floor speech last month, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and one of Trump's critics, denounced the "loose talk" on the campaign trail about torture and waterboarding.

"It is important to remember the facts: that these forms of torture not only failed their purpose to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies, but compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good," said McCain, who was tortured as a POW in Vietnam.

"I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence," McCain said.

"Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies -- our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored," McCain said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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