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Home / Impact / Prevented the Trump Administration from Backsliding on Torture and GITMO

Prevented the Trump Administration from Backsliding on Torture and GITMO

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to reinstate torture, saying he’d “bring back waterboarding, and a hell of a lot worse.” He also pledged to send more people to the prison at Guantanamo Bay: “We're going load it up with some bad dudes.” 

These were both red lines for us, and we were determined not to let him cross them. 

Right after the election, we mobilized our longtime partner: the coalition of retired military leaders. One hundred-seventy six retired flag officers, including 33 four-star generals, wrote to the president-elect, pointing out that torture weakens U.S. national security and “violates our core values as a nation.”  

We also worked behind the scenes to make renunciation of torture a litmus test for confirmation of Trump cabinet nominees. We succeeded. All five national security nominees—for Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, CIA Director, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Attorney General—stated that “enhanced interrogation” techniques are illegal and inappropriate.  

Then when a draft executive order indicated that President Trump intended to bring back a torture program, we ensured that a bipartisan coalition of Senators spoke out against it. That coalition was forged during our successful effort to pass the 2015 McCain-Feinstein amendment, which we proposed and helped draft for this very purpose: to rebuild the bipartisan consensus against torture. President Trump scrapped his torture revival plan.  

The prison at Guantanamo, which once held nearly 800 detainees, now holds 40. Trump promised to reverse this progress by sending new detainees there. This danger was especially acute in November 2017 when Trump suggested that he would send to GITMO the suspect in a deadly truck attack on a crowd in New York City.

We launched a coordinated effort to persuade the administration to send the suspect to federal court instead. Armed with our data, numerous national security experts pointed out that federal courts had a strong record of both respecting rights and producing convictions in terrorism trials. President Trump reversed course, citing one of our arguments: terrorism trials in the federal court system are more efficient.  

Just as President Trump hasn’t taken the country back to torture, he hasn’t sent any detainees to Gitmo. We protected the progress; now we’re seeking to build on it.