Veterans, Intel Officials Criticize GOP Candidates for Backing Torture

  • FILE - In this March 11, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in St. Louis. A possibly decisive presidential primary June 7 is going to take Republican candidates where they haven't been before,
    FILE - In this March 11, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in St. Louis. A possibly decisive presidential primary June 7 is going to take Republican candidates where they haven't been before,

Several dozen military, law enforcement and intelligence professionals "who have spent a good part of our adult life trying to hunt, capture, or kill terrorists" issued a damning statement against presidential candidates supporting the use of torture.

"Because of [our] experiences, we have been listening with increasing alarm to the casual -- and increasingly, favorable -- rhetoric about torture in the presidential campaign," the group wrote.

The letter doesn't mention any candidates by name, but Republican businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have both raised the issue on the campaign trail.

"Candidates have said we should punish prisoners even if it does not work because people ‘deserve' it, re-defined torture in a way that would allow for truly heinous conduct, and laughed along when an audience member suggested a rival politician should be waterboarded," the group wrote in the letter.

And the same calls are being made again with the recent terrorist bombings in Brussels, Belgium, they wrote.

"Apparently, it's okay to be pro-torture -- again.  In fact, we now see candidates looking to outdo each other in their eagerness to support it," the letter states.

The 62 signatories to the open letter posted on the Truman National Security Project website include Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force veterans, as well as members of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday told CNN that a suspect in last year's Paris bombing likely knew of what was being planned in Brussels and would have provided information "a lot faster with the torture."

"If he would've talked you might not have had the blow up -- all these people dead and all these people wounded because he probably knew about it," Trump told the reporter. "We have to be smart. I mean it's hard to believe. We can't waterboard -- listen, nothing's nice about it, but it's your minimal form of torture."

Earlier this month, Trump said he'd look to change laws against torture and waterboarding to "compete" with ISIS. During one of the debates in February, he said he would "bring back waterboarding. And I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."

Cruz, who is running behind Trump for the party nomination, said Wednesday morning during an interview on the show "Fox & Friends" that "the U.S. has never engaged in torture," suggesting that he does not consider waterboarding torture.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is alone among the three GOP candidates rejecting torture as a tactic in the fight against terrorism.

On the Democrat site, both frontrunner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, have rejected the use of torture on prisoners.

Waterboarding was among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use on prisoners under administration of George Bush, whose Justice Department defined torture as acts causing "pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

At one CIA detention site, called COBALT -- and described as a dungeon by the CIA's chief of interrogations, according to the committee -- detainees were walked around naked or shackled with their hands above their heads for long periods of time.

Some were subjected to what the CIA called a "rough takedown," during which some five CIA officers would scream at the detainee, drag him outside the cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with plastic tape. He'd then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

The Senate committee found evidence that some CIA officers threatened the children, wives or mothers of some detainees.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee's investigation of the CIA's interrogation program, rejected Bush administration lawyers' findings allowing for the methods.

Feinstein said she could only conclude after reviewing what program that "under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."

The committee also found that claims that the torture led to good, actionable intelligence was not true or greatly exaggerated.

The veterans, in their letter, noted that they "were on the ground and on the frontlines of this fight against terror, whether on patrol through neighborhoods in Iraq and Afghanistan, in detention facilities in the United States and around the world, or in the rooms where the grueling work of compiling information to track and target terrorists is actually done. We know what works and we know what does not work.

"So we are writing to reiterate very simply that the United States does not and should not torture for three simple reasons: It's not who we are, it's not what those of us who served signed up to do, and not only does it not work, it makes our troops and our nation less secure."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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