CIA chief John Brennan says in no uncertain terms that he would refuse to comply with any order from a future president that would force his agents to engage in torture, like waterboarding, during interrogation of terror suspects.
"I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I've heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure,” Brennan told NBC News. “I would not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again.”
The CIA engaged in harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding -- during which water is poured over a person’s face in order to simulate the sensation of drowning -- when questioning terror suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Critics describe the interrogation method as torture, and President Barack Obama banned such practices, which also included rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation, soon after taking office in 2009. And just last year, a ban of such techniques was overwhelmingly passed in the Senate.
But billionaire demagogue Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the two leading Republican presidential candidates, have opened the door to the possibility of bringing back some forms of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques in the fight against terrorism.
Republican front-runner Trump has pledged that he would seek to broaden the nation’s laws so that torture, including but not limited to waterboarding, would be allowed. Following the Brussels attacks in March, Trump said if laws were expanded, he would “do a lot more than waterboarding.”
Cruz, whose own father was tortured in Cuba, has said that he does not consider waterboarding to be a form of torture. During a recent presidential debate, Cruz said he “would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use” but said that, as president, he would “use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who trails behind Cruz and Trump in polls, has been more vague than his Republican rivals for the White House. When asked about the issue in February during a town hall event, Kasich was critical of using torture because it can produce “false information.” But he also made room for engaging in some harsh questioning tactics as president, citing the main character of the fictional television series “24,” arguing that “if there is a Jack Bauer moment, I gotta find out what the heck is going on.”
The issue of severe interrogation methods has not been a prominent one on the Democratic side of the race to the White House, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have condemned their use, both strong supporters of Obama's torture ban.
Sanders also voted in favor of last year's Senate amendment banning the tactics.
Clinton recently said that the practice is counterproductive in the fight against terror and that, if elected president, her administration would not "condone or practice" torture anywhere in the world.