General 'Mad Dog' Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour

President-elect Donald Trump often asserted that “torture works” on the campaign trail. But one meeting with legendary Marine Gen. James Mattis appears to have made him rethink that stance.

On Saturday, Trump met with the retired four-star general at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course for about an hour to discuss the possibility Mattis could be tapped to serve as defense secretary.

General James Mattis

General Mattis speaks to Marines in 2007. | U.S. Marine Corps photo

Details about the private conversation are hard to come by, but Trump did reveal an interesting bit Tuesday to reporters at The New York Times when asked about waterboarding.

From the Times:

“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.’” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.’’

Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.’’

It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of  Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.

If indeed Trump has changed his tune on the use of torture, that’s good news to a number of national-security experts who expressed concerns in light of Trump’s election win.

“I don’t think it’s going to come back,” Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College speaking of his personal views, said recently. “But that’s more hope than anything else.”

Mattis appears to be the frontrunner for the job of defense secretary. Trump told the Times he was “seriously considering” the retired officer for the position.

The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.

Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.

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