ANTONIO TAGUBA retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 with the rank of Major General. He led a 2004 army internal investigation into prisoner abuse at the U.S. detention facility in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. SCOTT COOPER retired from the U.S. Marine Corps with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He is Director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First.
President Donald Trump has made it clear that he believes the United States should consider using torture when interrogating terrorist suspects. Last February, during the Republican primary campaign, he pledged that if elected, he would authorize techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Doing so, he later bragged, “wouldn’t bother me even a little bit.” Trump insisted that “torture works”—and that even if it doesn’t, terrorists “deserve it anyway.”
Soon after his inauguration, Trump indicated that in crafting policy on interrogations, he would defer to the counsel of his defense secretary, the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis, who opposes the use of torture. “I’m going with General Mattis,” Trump said in an interview with David Muir of ABC News. “But do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works.”
The administration has continued to send mixed signals on the subject. In late January, The New York Times revealed the existence of a draft executive order that would have reversed the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to shutter the secret “black sites” where the CIA tortured detainees and to limit interrogators to the nonabusive techniques contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual. The Trump administration denied the Times’ report and soon circulated a different draft order on detainees, which did not call for such policy changes. But the episode left a distinct impression that although Mattis and other senior administration officials might oppose torture, Trump is hardly its only proponent in the White House.
That torture is once again even a topic of discussion at the highest levels of the U.S. government is an alarming development for the country—and for us personally. One of us, Antonio Taguba, as a major general in the U.S. Army, authored a 2004 internal army report on prisoner abuse at the U.S. detention facility in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Sifting through the evidence documenting the sickening ways that U.S. military personnel and contractors mistreated with the very worst in human nature and the ugliness that war can produce in those waging it. And after what became known as “the Taguba report” was leaked and made headlines, everyone learned just how stubbornly the U.S. government can resist taking responsibility for its crimes and learning from its errors. The George W. Bush administration blamed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib on low-level troops and staffers, and the senior civilian and military leaders who devised and authorized abusive tactics and encouraged an environment of brutality escaped culpability. Later, the Obama administration declined to prosecute anyone for ordering abuse or participating in it, even though President Barack Obama had himself conceded that the United States had “tortured some folks.”
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