People worried about Donald Trump’s respect for the law and the Constitution have often wondered if the president’s political party and the federal courts would restrain him if he crossed too many lines. Well, at least one Republican leader — the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, in fact —may soon haul Trump into court for violating the law.
Back in November, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain responded to the then–president-elect’s frequent praise for the use of torture in interrogations by threatening litigation:
“I don’t give a damn what the president wants to do,” he said. “We will not waterboard. We will not torture people.”
McCain went even further to say that anyone who brought back waterboarding would be in court in a “New York minute.”
Now that he is in office, Trump is reportedly (according to a leaked draft order) going to put McCain to the test:
President Donald Trump is asking for a review of America’s methods for interrogating terror suspects and the possible reopening of CIA-run “black site” prisons outside the United States, according to a draft executive order obtained by The Associated Press.
McCain has now fired off a statement reminding Trump that the “enhanced interrogation” methods Trump is pining for are in violation of a law passed by Congress in 2015, and commenting:
The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.
With respect to the CIA’s “black sites,” McCain noted that Trump’s choice for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, had publicly committed in confirmation hearings that the intelligence agency would comply with military standards for interrogations, which ban waterboarding and similar “enhanced” techniques.
So will Trump go ahead, and then will McCain see him in court? We’ll see. I suppose it is possible the “review” Trump is ordering will conclude that torture is both morally repellant and an unreliable way to procure information, and everybody will be happy. But it’s unlikely a confirmation of current law and practice is what Donald Trump has in mind. After all, the 45th president is “draining the swamp.”