Trump Backs Off Torture Because a Guy Named “Mad Dog” Doesn’t Like It

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Donald Trump on torture, February 6:

I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

Donald Trump on torture, yesterday:

So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy….I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, “I’ve never found it to be useful.” He said, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” And I was very impressed by that answer….It’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that. But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say. I thought he would say — you know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason.1 I thought he’d say “It’s phenomenal, don’t lose it.” He actually said, “No, give me some cigarettes and some drinks, and we’ll do better.”

How about that? It turns out that someone just needed to tell Trump that torture doesn’t work very well. Who knew?

Of course, Trump also said about his conversation, “I’m not saying it changed my mind.” So torture is still on the table. In fact, it’s not really clear what the worst part of this monologue is. I have three candidates:

  • All it took was one guy with an anecdote to persuade Trump that torture isn’t all that great.
  • Nonetheless, he’s still willing to do it “if it’s so important to the American people.” WTF?
  • He just assumed a guy with the nickname “Mad Dog” would love torture. I wonder if this is literally the only reason Trump wanted to meet with him?

Really, state-sponsored torture is a pretty easy thing to figure out. In movies, you can pretty reliably tell who the bad guys are because they torture their prisoners. I think that’s true in real life too.

1Not really. He’s a plenty tough guy, but he doesn’t like his nickname. Mattis is a fan of Marcus Aurelius, owns a huge personal library, and is famous for telling his troops, “You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.” He has also called Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “apartheid” and added, “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.” I wonder what Trump thinks of that?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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