Trump Backs Off Promise to Bring Back Torture

Gen. Mattis Convinced Him It Doesn't Work

President-elect Donald Trump has backed off of one of the most controversial pledges of his campaign today, his promise to bring back torture of detainees, saying following a talk with retired Gen. James Mattis that he was told torture doesn’t work as well as building a rapport with prisoners.

During the primaries, Trump emphasized his belief that the US needed to bring back waterboarding and “worse” tactics to better compete with ISIS’ own brutality. At the time, he dismissed arguments torture didn’t work on the grounds that the people being tortured “deserve it.” He also called the US ban on torture a “sign of weakness.”

Though it did not figure prominently in the general election campaign, Trump was still seen to be favoring torture as part of his war plan, to the extent that Human Rights Watch was expressing concern about Trump’s intentions after the election.

Gen. Mattis, who is seen as a front-runner for Secretary of Defense, told Trump that in his experience torture and abuse didn’t work well, and that he’d do better with “a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers.” Trump cited this conversation in his statement today backing away from torture.

Assuming Trump remains swayed on the matter, this is extremely good news for America’s future human rights record, and also may bolster Mattis’ candidacy for the Defense Secretary post. Sen. John McCain (R – AZ) and others have expressed opposition to a return to torture, and being the man who talked Trump out of such a return would likely make Mattis’ nomination hearings go smoothly.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.