Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Sunday did not rule out the U.S. using torture tactics like waterboarding to combat terrorism.
“We’re going to have a president again who will never say what we’ll never do,” Pence said of President-elect Donald Trump during an interview with “Face the Nation.”
Pence was speaking in response to the clear anti-torture message Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made to the president-elect one day earlier.
“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard. We will not do it,” McCain said during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia on Saturday.
The moderator had asked McCain what power Congress had to “rein in” a president who “does things which you find intolerable.” The senator noted that waterboarding, a torture technique that simulates drowning, is illegal in the U.S., is not authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual (which dictates acceptable interrogation practices) and is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
“If they started waterboarding, I swear to you, there are a bunch of us who would have [Trump] in court in a New York minute,” McCain said, snapping his fingers.
Trump and others in his nascent administration have carved out a clear stance in support of torture as an intelligence-gathering or counterterrorism tool.
Trump himself has stated explicit support for waterboarding and torture throughout his transition from business mogul to presidential nominee.
During a Republican candidate’s debate in February, Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” In March, he said he would seek to “broaden” laws to allow torture in order for the U.S. to “better compete” with tactics used by terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
To stay safe, the U.S. is “going to have to do things that are unthinkable almost,” Trump told a New Hampshire news station during a one-on-one interview in June.
Trump’s pick for CIA chief reflects his pro-waterboarding stance. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) in 2014 criticized President Barack Obama for outlawing torture techniques like waterboarding in intelligence gathering.
McCain, a Vietnam veteran who was tortured as a prisoner of war, has noted that torture is largely ineffective and is more likely to yield bad intelligence to interrogators; he cited the case of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed giving false information to his interrogators as one such example.
Many of McCain’s Republican colleagues have argued that torture works.
“My God, what does it say about America if we’re going to inflict torture on people?” McCain said Saturday. “It makes it hard for us to make the argument about the moral superiority of our government and our way of life.”