McCain Doesn't Care What Trump Wants: No Waterboarding

Sen. John McCain, left, and President-Elect Donald Trump, right. (Photos: Associated Press)

"I don't give a damn" what President-elect Donald Trump may want on lifting the ban against waterboarding and torture, Sen. John McCain said, adding he'll fight to keep the policy in place.

In the latest sign that the new president will have a hard time dealing with the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said over the weekend, "I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard. We will not do it."

McCain, who was subjected to torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, made the remarks to applause during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

McCain said waterboarding, which was sanctioned under the administration of President George W. Bush as an "enhanced interrogation technique," doesn't work and is banned under U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. He added, "My God, what does it say about America if we're going to inflict torture on people?"

McCain gave a lukewarm endorsement to Trump after he won the Republican presidential nomination. He later withdrew the endorsement and said he would not vote for Trump when the former reality TV star's comments about women surfaced.

During the campaign, Trump said he was in favor of bringing back waterboarding "and a lot worse."

Beyond Waterboarding

In a campaign appearance in South Carolina last February, Trump said, "Don't tell me it doesn't work -- torture works. OK, folks? Torture -- you know, half these guys [say], 'Torture doesn't work.' Believe me, it works. OK?"

In an interview on ABC's "This Week" program earlier this year, when asked if he would authorize torture, Trump said, "I would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding."

In response to McCain's remarks, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said on CBS' "Face The Nation" program Sunday that a Trump administration would not rule out a return to waterboarding.

Pence said that "a President Donald Trump is going to focus on confronting and defeating radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to this country. We're going to have a president again who will never say what we'll never do."

Trump already signaled that he might favor bringing back waterboarding in the interrogation of terror suspects with his nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican who graduated first in his class at West Point, as CIA director.

Two years ago, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released its damning report on torture and waterboarding, Pompeo said that members of the military and the CIA who used enhanced interrogation techniques "are not torturers, they are patriots."

Military Opposition

Any move to return to waterboarding would likely face opposition from the uniformed military leadership. Methods defined as enhanced interrogation techniques could subject service members to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Last March, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford indirectly but strongly rejected Trump's "torture works" campaign statements.

Dunford said he could not comment on politics but gave a general answer to questions in which he suggested that torture and waterboarding went against the "values" cherished by the American military.

"One of the things that makes me proud to represent this uniform is that we represent the values of the American people," he said. "When our young men and women go to war, they go with our values."

"When we find exceptions," and U.S. troops abuse prisoners, "you can see how aggressively we address those exceptions" under the UCMJ, Dunford said. "We should never apologize for going to war with the values of the American people. That's what we have done historically; that's what we expect to do in the future. And again, that's what makes me proud to wear this uniform."

In addition to the legal bans, President Barack Obama in January 2009 signed three executive orders reversing Bush administration policies on the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists. One of the orders banned the use of waterboarding and other methods Obama called torture.

Field Manual on Counterinsurgency

The Army and Marine Corps field manual on counterinsurgency -- FM 3-24, which was co-authored by then-Gen. David Petraeus -- also warns against prisoner abuse and harsh interrogation techniques under the section on "Ethics."

"Article VI of the U.S. Constitution and the Army Values, Soldier's Creed, and Core Values of U.S. Marines all require obedience to the law of armed conflict. They hold Soldiers and Marines to the highest standards of moral and ethical conduct," the manual states.

"No person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with, and as defined in, U.S. law," the manual states.

In June 2015, the Senate voted 78-21 to adopt an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act reaffirming the ban on torture and stating that interrogation techniques should be guided by the principles laid down in the Army and Marine Corps field manual.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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