WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says that, as president, he would push to change laws that prohibit waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, arguing that banning them puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage against Islamic State militants.
During the past week, in a series of interviews and events, Trump has articulated a loose, but expansive set of principles that, if enacted, would mark a fundamental shift in the strategy the Obama administration has employed to fight violent extremism. In addition to arguing in favor of reinstating waterboarding, a technique that mimics the sensation of drowning, and "much more than that," Trump has advocated the killing of militants' wives and children, which appears in violation of international law.
"We have to play the game the way they're playing the game," Trump said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, one day after he told an audience in Florida that he would fight to expand and broaden the laws that regulate interrogation.
"I would like to strengthen the laws," he added Sunday, "so that we can better compete."
Trump's comments come as the U.S. continues its fight against IS militants across the Middle East. Trump has repeatedly pointed to the tactics used by the group, including public beheadings and drownings in locked cages, as evidence that the U.S. needs to dramatically escalate the tactics it uses.
During a news conference Saturday in West Palm Beach, Florida to mark his election wins, Trump refused, however, to articulate specifically which techniques he would like to see added, despite repeated questions. Instead, he said: "It's very hard to be successful in beating someone when your rules are very soft and their rules are unlimited, they have unlimited, they can do whatever they want to do."
Pressed Sunday on why he believed waterboarding had been banned, Trump said the U.S. was being "weak" by not employing the militants' tactics.
"Because I think we're a weak — I think we've become very weak and ineffective. I think that's why we're not beating ISIS. It's that mentality," he said using an acronym for the militant group.
"Isn't that what separates us from the savages?" host John Dickerson asked.
"No, I don't think so," answered Trump. "No, we have to beat the savages."
"We have to play the game the way they're playing the game. You're not going to win if we're soft and they're — they have no rules," he said.
In 2009, Obama issued an executive order saying all U.S. government personnel and contractors — not just those in the military — are prohibited from using any interrogation techniques that aren't in the Army Field Manual. That was reaffirmed last June, when Republicans joined all 44 Senate Democrats in a 78-21 vote months after a Senate intelligence committee report denounced brutal interrogation methods, arguing they had proven ineffective.
However, other former CIA officials, including former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, maintain that waterboarding and other harsh methods have yielded vital intelligence.
Trump appeared, at least briefly, to soften his stance after nearly 100 foreign policy experts signed an open letter denouncing him, saying his "embrace of the expansive use of torture" was "inexcusable."
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and others also have weighed in, saying military officials would refuse to carry out any Trump order that violated the law.
During the last GOP debate, Trump insisted that U.S. military officials would obey any orders he gave them, saying, "They're not going to refuse me. Believe me."
The next day, his campaign released a statement clarifying that Trump would "use every legal power" to stop "terrorist enemies." But it said that he recognized the U.S. is bound by laws and treaties and that, as president, he would not order the military or other officials to disobey the law.