Over the weekend, Donald J. Trump, the billionaire racist real estate developer son of a millionaire racist real estate developer, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he would bring back waterboarding (and “worse” techniques). When it was explained to the authoritarian favorite that waterboarding and many other forms of torture are illegal under both US and international law and treaty, Trump demonstrated his complete lack of comprehension of the law, how it works, how national security works, and why subjects are classified at all, by saying he would bring it back by “declassifying” it.
Sorry, Donald, but whether or not the use of waterboarding is classified has nothing whatsoever to do with its legality. In fact, classifying its use would violate several additional laws besides the ones barring its use in the first place. It is illegal to classify something just to keep it hidden from the public, or because it was illegal at the time. For those who never served or never learned the distinction, information is classified (or not) based on the damage its disclosure would do to national security. Nothing more. If it could cause some identifiable damage to national security (not national reputation), some minor information that could give a potential enemy information they could use to their advantage over ours, it would be given the level “Confidential.” The exact number of troops in a unit would be classified Confidential, since it could help an enemy to know the exact number of persons they’d be facing. Information whose disclosure could cause serious damage to our national security would be classified Secret. Mission logs in a communication unit that does presidential support missions would be classified Secret. (I’ve written some.) But information whose release could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security is classified Top Secret. Obvious things like nuclear launch codes would be classified Top Secret. And there are levels of Top Secret requiring even higher levels of clearance to obtain. Sometimes they fall into the category of Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI). A good example would be safes that have two combination dials where nobody is allowed to know both combinations. (It’s called the Two Man Integrity System.) You could be cleared for that level of classified info, but it doesn’t mean they have to grant you access to it. I don’t think many in the civilian world understand that in order to have access to classified information, you require three things. First, you must have proper identification or be personally known to the person revealing you the information. Second, you must have the proper level of security clearance for that information. This can be waived by the Commander-in-Chief or a command level officer, but not by lower ranking personnel who might have to handle it as part of their everyday duties. The third and most important thing you must have is a need to know. I happened to have held a very high level security clearance, but that didn’t mean I had the authority to just open up the safes and read classified reports, even for things well below my clearance level. I didn’t have any need to know the classified information, so I would never have been given access to it. This is often overlooked in many lesser-quality TV shows or movies, and people are told things they shouldn’t know because they don’t need to know it. So nobody could say they sat and read a bunch of classified reports and learned stuff because they would have had to demonstrate a need to know the information they sought. When something is classified, it has to be because its unauthorized disclosure would damage national security. And despite the idea I personally believe some Bush Administration officials may have harbored, our national reputation is not part of our national security. You can’t classify something just because it would make America look bad. So if waterboarding were being used, that fact alone could not be considered classified. By Trump saying he would “declassify” its use, he shows he has no understanding of how and why information is classified.
“You can say what you want. I have no doubt that it does work in terms of information and other things — and maybe not always but nothing works always. But I have no doubt that it works,” he insisted.
Then there’s the matter of whether or not one believes “it works.” Whether or not one believes it, the fact is it does not “work.” It never has. (And, please, if you have to twist and manipulate the facts around one small piece of information which may or may not have been learned as a result of torture, it still wouldn’t prove it “works” or was justified.) It does not generate usable or reliable information because a person being tortured will say anything to get the torture to stop. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you tell them anything you think they might want to hear, even if you made it up entirely, if you thought it would make the torture stop? Don’t lie. And waterboarding is torture, you can ask Sean Hannity. Oh, wait. He’s never fulfilled his promise to be waterboarded for charity, so he wouldn’t know. I’ve never been waterboarded, either, but I never offered to be. I believe the people who have undergone it and said it was torture, including conservatives. What you see happening on TV and in the movies, where torturing someone gains useful intelligence, is bullshit. Torture is done as a show of power and domination over a prisoner. I’m assuming it’s a prisoner that’s being tortured, because if it isn’t there are far more serious problems being neglected here. And once you start torturing someone, they’ll say whatever they think you want to hear, whether or not it’s the truth, as long as they think it will make you stop torturing him. This is reality, and to deny it and claim torture does “work” is to reveal a level of mental illness usually reserved to the people being chased by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. These are sick people we’re dealing with here, and when you combine that with the overwhelmingly authoritarian streak Trump and his supporters have, waterboarding will be the least of your problems. Torture is illegal for a reason. And it makes no difference what handpicked lawyers in your administration say, it is still illegal. If you cannot wrap your already-wrapped-with-something head around that idea, you are completely and totally unfit to occupy the office of President of the United States. Or even Senior Domestic Policy Adviser.
“When they’re chopping off the heads of people — and innocent people in most cases — beyond waterboarding is fine with me.”
One more time for those who have trouble with polysyllabic (big) words: You can’t do it. It would break the law. You would go to jail and pay a yuge fine. Does that make it clear? We signed international treaties where we agreed that Torture was never, under any circumstances, justifiable. Never. It makes no difference whatsoever what criminals do, it does not justify stooping to their level. I understand why you think it would. You are an Authoritarian, as are most of your followers. You believe in the use of brutal tactics to have your way. You lack empathy. You lack ethics, too. You will say anything to get people to give you what you want, and you aren’t even being tortured! You think this makes you a good businessman. It might make you a rich businessman, but I would hardly say it makes you “good.” You wrongly believe that one of the qualifications that makes one a good president is the ability to negotiate a deal. But that wouldn’t be your job as president, either domestically or overseas. There are people who have been working for the government far longer than you whose job it is to negotiate labor contracts and international treaties. You aren’t the one who will be doing that, so stop going around telling everyone you will. It’s a lie. One among many you tell all the time. But just because you say it’s true doesn’t mean it is, and it doesn’t matter if people think it’s true, it still isn’t. Waterboarding is torture. Torture is never legal or justifiable. It doesn’t work and never has. It’s not going to save anyone’s life and does more long term harm than any short term good it arguably might do. And it is a really, really, sick, depraved thing to do. No decent human being would even think of using it, and you’ve proven to everyone you are anything but. And so are the people who adore you and believe in everything you say. I weep for this country.