GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's calls for the torturing of terror suspects in the wake of attacks in Brussels play right into the hands of the self-described Islamic State, or ISIS, a U.S. terrorism expert said Tuesday.
Malcolm Nance, head of the Terrorism Asymmetrics Project and a former U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officer, pushed back against Trump's claim that he would have supported waterboarding Salah Abdeslam, the alleged plotter of last year's attacks in Paris, who was arrested in Belgium earlier this week.
"Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that [ISIS] tells their operatives and that they tell their terrorists that the United States is a racist nation -- xenophobic, anti-Muslim -- and that that's why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them in defense of their version of Islam," Nance told MSNBC.
Nance said such interrogation techniques would be considered war crimes, and that ISIS was "probably cutting videos" of Trump's comments to use for propaganda. He also argued that such interrogation wouldn't have produced any actionable intelligence -- torture rarely does -- because ISIS would have kept Abdeslam out of the loop after he was compromised in November. (Later reports indicated that Abdeslam was linked to the plot, though it's unclear exactly how much he would have known about Tuesday's attack.)
"[Trump's rhetoric] is detrimental to the counterterrorism and anti-terrorism missions around the world," continued Nance. "There are intelligence officers right now that are going to have to contend with their partners over what's being said during the U.S. presidential race. It's irresponsible and it needs to stop."
Both Trump and rival GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) have come under fire in the past for using rhetoric consistent with a supposed "clash of civilizations" -- the idea, often promoted by radical Islamic terrorists, that the West is locked in an existential battle with the Muslim world. Controversy over this language peaked in December, when Trump called for a "complete shutdown" of Muslims coming into the U.S., a proposal he took further on Tuesday when he said it was time to "close up our borders."
Terrorism experts have repeatedly warned lawmakers and other officials against pushing this ideology, arguing that demonizing Muslim refugees and promoting Islamophobia against American Muslims serves as a recruitment tool for extremists and alienates key allies in the fight against domestic terrorism.
On Tuesday, Cruz responded to the attacks in Brussels with a statement that managed to do both.
“We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence,” Cruz said. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized. We need to secure the southern border to prevent terrorist infiltration. And we need to execute a coherent campaign to utterly destroy ISIS.”
The senator's comments about targeting Muslims in America drew condemnation from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who responded flatly: “That’s not what we do in America.”
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist