Apparently Donald Trump does speak for most Americans, or at least the folks at Unfiltered Patriot would have you think so. The Donald has been taking some heat for expressing his opinions on Torture. “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 has repeatedly stated that waterboarding is the least of the measures that he would use to extract information from terrorists / enemy combatants. Here Trump is following advice often attributed to Sun Tzu: “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” However, this quote is a misattribution, appearing nowhere in The Art of War. Probably because it’s a bad idea. Michael Prescott explains why this is so very clearly in his short essay, Becoming your Enemy, where he explains that, “fighting the enemy is what the enemy wants.”
Vladmir Lenin knew this. He is quoted as saying that, “the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.”The blogger, Gowdey, succinctly describes this purpose, and how it realizes the flaw of the ‘Become your Enemy’ quote, in this 2007 Common Sense essay as…
Although terrorism employs violent means, and often uses military weaponry to execute attacks and massacres – the objective of a terrorist act isn’t military victory. In fact, military forces are almost never the target of terrorist attacks. The objective of a terrorist attack is political reaction. The strategy behind such attacks is for them to be the catalyst, direct or indirect, for political change that weakens the enemy.
In classic political/strategic theory, the purpose of terrorism is to create a political psychology of fear and anger that persuades a government to undertake repressive and violent activities against its own populace, gradually losing their support, and eventually causing its own demise.
In the aftermath of the terrible events of terrorism committed on September 11th 2001, President Bush addressed America in a joint session of congress nine days later to voice a response to the attacks. In this response, the President outlined what we knew about Al Qaeda at the time. We knew it was led by Osama bin Laden and that it had been responsible for previous attacks on western targets including, the truck bombing of the World Trade Center, a suicide attack on the USS Cole, and a number of Embassy bombings. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Then, as if to assure us that the U.S. would not stumble blindly into becoming our enemy, he explained the motive of the terrorists. “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” He also attempted to quell any potential anti-Islam reactionary response by clarifying that these terrorists, “practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”
However, three days later, on 14 September 2001, Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force, stating:
Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
- (1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.
This gave the President what one might arguably call unrestricted right to do anything he (or she) pleases. Furthermore, the only time restriction mentioned is ‘future,’ so, for as long as there exists time, the President maintains these powers.
On 26 October 2001, the President signed the USA Patriot Act, which made a number of changes to U.S. law. Changes were made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986, the Bank Secrecy Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act, all for the purpose of loosening restrictions on government agencies that had prevented them from spying on, well, everyone. America had changed. With one (rather large) Act, we ensured that the freedoms that Al Qaeda hated us for were much fewer in number.
Soon came the realization that by fighting a non-governmental, terrorist group, we were in untested waters, and we changed again. This time, we abandoned our position of moral superiority by opening the prison in Guantanamo Bay to house ‘enemy combatants.’
The 1949 Geneva Conventions defined ‘enemy combatants‘ as
Any person in an armed conflict who could be properly detained under the laws and customs of war.” In the case of a civil war or an insurrection the term “enemy state” may be replaced by the more general term “Party to the conflict.”
Of course, it’s hard to say what goes on in Gitmo. However, it was learned that one strategy involved the use of what came to be known as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ The BBC provides an excellent look into how the US government distinguishes between torture (which it says it does not engage in) and enhanced interrogation (which is just fine).
The exemplar of enhanced interrogation is waterboarding (also see the BBC article above). Arguments about whether waterboarding represents torture or not have gone on for several years now.
On Saturday, 5 March 2016, Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump revisited the discussion saying repeatedly that, as President, he would seek to “broaden” U.S. laws to allow torture, including but not limited to waterboarding. In justification, Trump vowed to “strengthen the laws so that we can better compete” with ISIS‘ brutal tactics. “Did somebody tell ISIS, ‘Look, we’re going to treat your guys well. Will you please do us a favor and treat our guys well?’ They don’t do that. We’re not playing by — we are playing by rules, but they have no rules. It’s very hard to win when that’s the case,” Trump said, adding that the United States’ ban on waterboarding is a sign of weakness.
Providing some clarity, Trump returned to his win/lose view of world politics:
Did somebody tell ISIS, ‘Look, we’re going to treat your guys well. Will you please do us a favor and treat our guys well?’ They don’t do that. We’re not playing by — we are playing by rules, but they have no rules. It’s very hard to win when that’s the case,”
“I think we’ve become very weak and ineffective. I think that’s why we’re not beating ISIS. It’s that mentality… [ISIS] must think we are a little bit on the weak side.”
This brings me back to the Unfiltered Patriot. In reporting the results of a Reuters survey, they find that Americans are actually quite comfortable with the use of torture.
[T]he poll asked respondents if they could justify torture “against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism.” 25% said that such torture was “often” acceptable and another 38% said it was “sometimes” justified. Only 15% of respondents said it was never okay.
More scientific polling on the question by Gallup has found that Americans are not as eager to support torture when they are asked at times other than immediately following an attack.
For a more comprehensive look into how Americans feel about specific acts of torture (relevant to Islamic enemy combatants):
Further, a majority of Americans believe that the U.S. government should abide by the Geneva Conventions – although, at 57%, I find this to be a much smaller majority than I would have hoped for.
Going beyond just the terrorists, Trump has also suggested, “I would be very, very firm with families … Frankly, that will make people think, because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”
One last thought (again, from Gallup 2011)
Of 2,482 Americans asked whether violence resulting in the death of civilians is never justified…
Results were broken down by religious affiliations including Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and atheists.