The debate over the use of torture during the George W. Bush administration tends to get stereotyped as a showdown between ruthless operatives and idealistic activists. Both of those groups do exist, but it’s also true that conflicts over the legality and morality of “enhanced interrogation” often took place within the national security apparatus itself: FBI agents, military lawyers, and CIA whistleblowers were among those who most strongly opposed the use of techniques like waterboarding. This history is particularly relevant in the light of a new Huffington Post investigative piece about Donald Trump’s potential relationship with the military as commander-in-chief; while the piece touches on a number of subjects, its central point is that Trump’s vows to employ waterboarding and kill the families of suspected terrorists have alarmed many current and former soldiers, who predict that an actual Trump presidency would create an immediate crisis that would make Harry Truman’s dismissal of Douglas MacArthur look like a quaint tiff between friends.*
The basic idea is that the military is run and staffed by people who have no interest in exposing themselves to future prosecution by using potentially immoral tactics that have been shown, over the past decade-plus, to be both highly controversial and of dubious effectiveness. Trump, on the other hand, makes a big deal of wanting to roll out said tactics on Day One of his presidency. From reporter Andy Kroll’s piece:
For even the savviest of presidents, the relationship between a commander in chief and his military is famously fraught, an intricate dance of egos and agendas, worldviews and bureaucracies. A President Trump, however, could usher in a clash of historic proportions. “If you take the man at his word,” said Michael Breen, the president of the Truman National Security Project and a decorated former Army officer, “we have a presidential candidate who seems to have committed himself to triggering what would probably be the greatest crisis in civil-military relations since the American Civil War.”
The conflict would not necessarily be limited to the Pentagon:
John Rizzo, the former CIA general counsel who worked at the agency for 35 years, told me that the employees he still spoke with were “terrified” at the prospect of reopening the debates over the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. “Deep concern is a mild way of putting the prospect of their commander in chief basically ordering them to go down this road again given all the trauma,” he said. If Trump won and followed through on his proposals, Rizzo predicted an employee “exodus.”
Also, this has nothing to do with the waterboarding thing, but is just very funny, especially given that Trump received a number of deferments that allowed him to avoid military service in Vietnam:
In a 1997 interview with Howard Stern, Trump likened his determination to avoid sexually transmitted infections to serving in combat. His sex life in the 1980s was “my personal Vietnam,” he said. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
Ha ha ha! What a twerp. You can (and should!) read the whole HuffPo article here.
*Correction, April 26, 2016: This post originally misspelled Douglas MacArthur’s last name.