Torture and Trump
In seven days Donald Trump will be officially instilled as the President of the United States. Trump’s inauguration will take place in the context of ongoing controversy. This week the news website Buzzfeed released unverifiable documents alleging that the Russian Government holds a file containing compromising material on Trump. Whether the allegations are correct is unclear, but their salience represents a wider fear that Trump’s administration is sympathetic towards Putin’s Russia and admires the various human rights abuses it has committed.
In fact, there is concern that the Trump administration will enable the US to commit two major and notorious human rights abuses: the use torture against suspected terrorists, and the indefinite detention of terrorists suspects without trial.
During the presidential election campaign, Donald Trump made a number of different statements on the use of torture. In February 2016, for example, he said that:
“Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys—”Torture doesn’t work!”—believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding.”
Later in the year, Trump reiterated this statement, declaring that “I am a person that believes in enhanced interrogation. And by the way, it works.”
‘Enhanced interrogation’ is a euphemism for the U.S. government's program of systematic torture of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and various components of the U.S. Armed Forces that were authorised by the Bush administration. These techniques included beating, binding in contorted stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, deprivation of food, drink, and withholding medical care for wounds—as well as waterboarding, walling, sexual humiliation, subjection to extreme heat or extreme cold, confinement in small coffin-like boxes, and repeated slapping. The techniques were used during the ‘War on Terror’, but the evidence shows they were of dubious effectiveness.
Since his election, there have been some signs that the President-elect may be willing to reconsider his attitude to torture. Following a meeting with James Mattis - a former Commander of United States Central Command - Trump stated that he was “very impressed” by Mattis’s argument that he had never found torture particularly useful, and that he could get more information with “a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers” than with torture methods. While just yesterday, Trump’s pick to be the next CIA director, Mike Pompeo, told the United State’s Senate that he would “absolutely not” be willing to reinstate the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program, even if Trump personally gave the order.
Detention without trial
Closely related to torture is the issue of detention without trial. The most prominent example of this is the US’s use of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay was established in 2002, during the Bush Administration. It is used by the United States to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists without trial. The US is unable to detain suspected terrorists without trial on the US mainland due to various protections given by the American constitution.
Upon his election as President in 2008, Barack Obama repeatedly promised to close the detention camp. However, the Obama administration has failed to do this. Many cite significant Republican Party opposition in Congress to his plans as the cause of this failure. Obama did, however, succeed in reducing the number of inmates held in Guantanamo Bay. During his Presidential term, the number of inmates decreased from around 245 to 61.
Donald Trump has made a number of statements on Guantanamo Bay and indefinite detention without trial. In February last year, Trump declared that:
"Guantanamo Bay we are keeping open… and we're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."
Trump repeated these claims throughout the Presidential campaign. Since his election, Trump has not shown any desire to row-back on these statements. Two weeks ago the President-elect said that there must be no further releases of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. He said those left were "extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield". Trump has accused Obama of attempting to rush through more releases before Trump’s inauguration. On Wednesday, 40 Democratic legislators wrote an open-letter to Obama urging him to close the detention camp before Trump’s inauguration.
The President-elect has made a number of inflammatory statements regarding the use of torture and indefinite detention without trial. These statements have alarmed human rights organisations across the globe. Since his election in November, statements by Trump and those around him have suggested that he may be willing to reconsider his endorsement of the use of torture. However, it seems that Trump is not prepared to reconsider his support for the use of indefinite detention and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
James Dobson is a researcher at Bright Blue