Speaking in general terms, and without mentioning Donald Trump's name, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford renewed Thursday his criticism of waterboarding, torture and the targeting of civilians as morally and legally wrong.
Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the use of extreme interrogation techniques would go against "American values" and adversely impact on troop morale.
Graham also avoided using Trump's name but said "some have suggested that we intentionally target civilians or go back to waterboarding. What effect, if any, would this have on the warfighter if we started telling our men and women to intentionally target civilian non-combatants and engage in techniques such as waterboarding or more extreme forms of interrogation?"
Dunford responded that "I've said publicly before, our men and women -- we ought to be proud of it -- when they go to war they go with the values of our nation. And those kind of activities you've described are inconsistent with the values of our nation and, quite frankly, I think would have an adverse effect."
Dunford said one of those adverse effects "would be on the morale of the force, and what you're suggesting are things that actually aren't legal for them to do anyway" under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions.
Last month at a House hearing, Dunford and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter were asked by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, to comment on the remarks of Republican frontrunner Trump on the campaign trail about torture and waterboarding, and his suggestions that the families of terrorists be targeted.
Carter declined to comment on a political matter, but Dunford said he would respond in general terms and Carter later endorsed his statements.
Dunford said then that "One of the things that makes me proud to represent this uniform is that we represent the values of the American people. When our young men and women go to war, they go with our values. When we find exceptions, you can see how aggressively we address those exceptions."
In a campaign appearance last month, Trump said that he supported waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques because "torture works" in the questioning of terrorists.
"Don't tell me it doesn't work -- torture works," Trump said. "Okay, folks? Torture -- you know, half these guys [say]: 'Torture doesn't work.' Believe me, it works. Okay?"
Trump later amended his stance to say that he favored changing the laws to permit more extreme interrogation techniques that would not put service members in jeopardy of being prosecuted.
"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 earlier this month 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 U.S.
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.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org