Donald Trump Wants to Reclassify Waterboarding So It’s No Longer a War Crime for Him to Order It

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Republican Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Days Before State's Primary
Trump has offered to build a ballroom for the White House, but not a dungeon, yet.Photo: Joe Raedle/2016 Getty Images

While there was some discussion among the Republican candidates at Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire as to whether or not waterboarding was a form of torture (it is), Donald Trump went below and beyond everyone else on stage to insist that not only would he reinstitute waterboarding against America’s enemies, he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” as well. Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, Trump elaborated on his position and confirmed that he would “go through a process and get [waterboarding] declassified” as a war crime in order to use it, “at a minimum,” against ISIS if he’s elected president. So far, Trump has not explained what forms of torture he would bring back that are worse than waterboarding, which is essentially simulated drowning. “You can say what you want I have no doubt that it does work in term of information and other things,” Trump insisted to Tapper, though it’s worth noting that torture doesn’t actually work when it comes to gathering useful intelligence from prisoners.

Regarding the rest of the GOP field’s responses to the torture question Saturday night, Ted Cruz stood by the Bush-administration’s discredited assurance that waterboarding was a form of enhanced interrogation, not torture, though either way he wouldn’t “bring it back in any sort of widespread use.” Jeb Bush changed his position, from saying he wouldn’t rule it out, to last night saying that he was happy with Congress’s ban on waterboarding as it was. Marco Rubio dodged the question by insisting it would be inappropriate to discuss his future plans for America’s interrogation techniques. Regardless, though Rubio missed the Senate vote on banning torture, he has said he would have voted against the ban, and on Saturday night championed the idea of filling up Guantánamo with new prisoners to interrogate. 

Though he was not asked about it on Saturday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has previously said he did not consider waterboarding torture and would not rule it out as an interrogation method. Carly Fiorina supports the practice as well. Ben Carson has made a statement that seems to suggest he would consider waterboarding prisoners, too. It’s not clear what John Kasich’s position is.