"I didn't say kill. We have to go after them."

Donald Trump said Wednesday night that he doesn’t necessarily want to kill the families of terrorists -- a controversial proposal he has raised at various points during his campaign.

Instead, Trump told CNN, his policy would merely be “to go after them” if he wins the White House.

What “go after them” actually means is left to the imagination of voters, since Trump spoke only in evasive bromides during the interview.

  • “We have to do something and it's the only way you stop it.”
  • “We have to be a lot tougher. We are playing with a different set of rules.”
  • “We have to play the game at a much tougher level than we are playing.”
  • “We're not fighting it strongly enough.”

For those with even modest interest in international laws and moral norms, there was some relief. Trump did rule out cutting off the heads of captured family members of those terrorists. And while he said he would bring back waterboarding for the terrorists themselves, he clarified that it would be on firm legal grounding (naturally).

“I’m in total support of waterboarding. It has to be within the law, but I have to expand the law,” Trump said. “I'll work on it with the generals.”

There is simply no way to gather a concrete theory of Trump’s view of counter-terrorism from this interview. It was word mush hidden behind a bravado delivery. You could leave it thinking that Trump is totally fine doing some very dark things in the name of defeating the Islamic State.

“It's very interesting what's happens with the Geneva Convention,” he said at one point. “Everybody believes in the Geneva Convention until they start losing and then it's okay, let's take out the bomb.”

“Everybody believes in the Geneva Convention until they start losing and then it's okay, let's take out the bomb.”

- Donald Trump

Or you can leave the interview thinking that Trump’s guiding principle is, well, getting through Anderson Cooper's questions. After all, while he insisted that he never actually said he wanted to kill the families of terrorists, that was the obvious implication.

“I would be very, very firm with families,” Trump said at one point during the campaign. “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.”

“We’re fighting a very politically correct war,” he said in a different media appearance. “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

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