John McCain to Donald Trump, on torture: Forget it — "we will not waterboard"

The Senate Republican's return to maverick-like defiance comes as Mike Pence refuses to rule out torture

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published November 22, 2016 3:00AM (EST)
 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)

Vice president-elect Mike Pence recently refused to rule out the possibility that the Trump administration would allow the torture of terrorism suspects, including the use of waterboarding.

"We're going to have a president again who will never say what we'll never do," the Indiana Governor said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Pence was pressed about a possible return to torture for the U.S. following Trump's naming of Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, to head the CIA. Pompeo, like Trump, has indicated that he does not believe that waterboarding is torture and has called for a return of so-called harsh interrogation tactics.

“I happen to think that when you’re fighting an enemy that chops off heads, I happen to think that we should use something that’s stronger than we have right now,” Trump said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in March. “Right now, basically, waterboarding is essentially not allowed, as I understand it. ... I would certainly like it to be, at a minimum, at a minimum to allow that.”

On Saturday, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, pushed back against the incoming administration's rush to return to the days of using torture techniques against terror suspects. According to the Associated Press, McCain told a crowd during a panel discussion at the annual Halifax International Security Forum that despite Trump's campaign talk and Pence's reluctance to rule it out, the U.S. will not return to torture.

"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 tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, said to applause.

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee noted that such extreme interrogation methods are ineffective and banned by both U.S. federal law and the international Geneva Conventions.

"What does it say about America if we're going to inflict torture on people," he asked. "We will not torture people ... It doesn't work."

Still, the future Trump administration appears to disagree with McCain.

“Those techniques get information,” Trump told “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl in July. “I don’t care what anyone says.”

“What I can tell you is enhanced information gleaned information that saved American lives and, I was informed, prevented incoming terrorist attacks on this country from being successful,” Pence added at the time.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Donald Trump John Mccain Mike Pence Torture Video Waterboarding