Column, 535 words

Trump’s Impeachable Offense

GOP presidential candidates are endorsing torture, again.


For anyone who cares deeply about being informed, watching Republican presidential debates can feel like a form of torture. But the program becomes more terrifying altogether when their ignorance is hitched to an endorsement of actual torture.

At the latest GOP debate in New Hampshire, Donald Trump heartily endorsed waterboarding and other forms of torture, which he promised to reinstitute in national security interrogations if he wins the election. “I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump vowed.

Trump’s position was condemned immediately by Republican Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about torture. McCain, who was brutally beaten as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, accused his fellow Republicans of “sacrificing our respect for human dignity” with their “loose talk” about instituting human rights abuses.


Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

McCain reminded Trump — and Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina, who also seem to be enamored of torture — that the torture techniques employed by the Bush administration after 9/11 were unreliable. They produced no actionable intelligence, disrupted no terrorist attacks, and saved no American lives.

These conclusions were documented by investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee, who examined raw CIA documents. In other words, they came directly from the horse’s mouth.

But torture isn’t just bad policy. It’s against the law.

First, the federal Torture Act stipulates that if an American soldier, CIA officer, or anybody else acting on behalf of the government waterboards a prisoner, he risks up to 20 years imprisonment. The McCain-Feinstein Amendment Congress passed last year reiterated the ban on torture, including waterboarding.

Second, our country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Waterboarding a prisoner is against international law and could subject the torturer — or the person ordering or approving the torture — to international sanctions, including prosecution in international courts.

In the early part of the last decade, torture fans in the George W. Bush Justice Department — most infamously in a legal opinion by attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee — twisted the law itself into contortions to argue that certain forms of torture were permissible. Al-Qaeda, they said, was a “non-state actor,” not a country. As such, its members should receive none of the protections of international law.

That argument was specious on its face. Absolutely nothing in U.S. law says that there are two sets of rules — one for countries and one for terrorist groups. The law is the law, whether we like it or not — including international conventions adopted by the United States.

What Trump and his cronies are advocating is illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional. In fact, it’s an impeachable offense. No president can order anybody to commit torture. Anyone who does should be hauled before a judge.

Personally, I have trouble taking any candidate who knows so little about the law and the Constitution seriously. But deep down, I almost want one of them to win, just so Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American people can make an example of him or her.

Maybe that’s what it will take to finally put this torture issue to rest.

OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. A former CIA employee, he served time for blowing the whistle on the agency’s use of torture.

  • Elizabeth Whitehouse

    With the current Supreme Court, I wouldn’t hold my breath!

  • Dago T

    I’m being tortured — by Republican presidential candidates — who by the way are very un-presidental.

  • DFinMOzarks

    As a 25 year navy retired MCPO I also find it revolting and criminally ignorant on the part of these conservative hate mongers who are so willing to be as brutal or worse than ISIS or any of these other terrorist groups in pursuit of a few votes by other idiots also ignorant about our laws. They apparently don’t know that we are a signer of the Geneva Conventions which forbid torture and that our Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids torture. The soldiers code of conduct forbids torture (ditto the other services).

    Every senior active duty flag officer in all of our military services told Bush that they were against torture when he and Cheney so cavalierly “took the gloves off”after 9/11 because they knew that doing this would put our own forces at greater risk.

    Are these fools aware that after WWII we tried, convicted and executed Germans and Japanese who were found guilty of torturing allied servicemen and civilians in occupied countries??? That torture included waterboarding.

    This is the risk we take as Americans when so few of our candidates have any active duty military experience …and in the case of these morons, any respect for the law, our history going all the way back to our founding fathers, our constitution and the recommendations of our military leaders..Their bloodthirstiness is sickening and at the very least should deem them unqualified to run for president by our Supreme Court when they openly flout the laws they will be swearing to uphold if elected. But figure the odds on that happening with a 5-4 majority of conservatives on the court.

    It makes me wonder why no one is willing to bring charges against these noisy and ignorant candidates for doing this.