After saying for months that he would go as far as to target terrorists’ families and support torture as a means of interrogating terror suspects, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump softened his stance Friday and suggested he would respect the limits of international law.
Fox News moderator Brett Baier asked Trump about his provocative comments at Thursday night’s debate.
He said that experts have questioned his stance on terror suspects and their families and noted that the military might refuse such orders if they do not comply with international law.
“They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me,” Trump responded.
He has also stated that he would do a “hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding terrorist suspects if he were elected president.
But in a statement released by his campaign Friday, Trump clarified his positions. He said that while he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies,” he does “understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties” and that he would “not order our military or other officials to violate those laws.”
International law stipulates that torture is considered a war crime. Ordering the military to torture suspects would violate the 1949 Geneva Convention. Waterboarding is considered a form of torture by international law, and it was banned by the Obama administration.
Though Trump clarified that he wouldn’t ask the military to break international law, he also emphasised the need to defend the US from terror attacks.
“I feel very, very strongly about the need to attack and kill those terrorists who attack and kill our people,” Trump said in the statement, which was provided to Business Insider and first reported by The Wall Street Journal. “I know people who died on 9/11. I will never forget those events.”
He continued: “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as President I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
Military experts have been staunchly critical of Trump’s past statements on the issues of torture and military law.
Chris Harmer, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who spent 20 years serving in the US Navy, told Business Insider in an email that Trump’s stances would spark a potentially direct confrontation between him and military advisers.
“If Donald Trump were President, and issued such an order, I would consider him a domestic enemy of the Constitution of the United States and would not only disobey the order, I would do everything in my power to ensure my fellow officers disobeyed that order as well,” Harmer said.
John B. Bellinger, an adjunct senior fellow for international and national security law at the Council on Foreign Relations, echoed those sentiments.
“The military would refuse to obey an unlawful order, and that would include an order that violated a clear international law rule,” he told Business Insider in an email.
Trump’s Friday statement did not assure Harmer that he would be an effective commander in chief.
“People make verbal gaffes; I have. I make allowance for that,” Harmer said. “But Trump’s statements on torture and the intentional targeting of civilians as reprisal were considered statements, which he repeated several times. The fact that he is now backtracking away from them does not alleviate my concern. He is not fit to be Commander in Chief.”
Trump’s full statement is below:
I feel very, very strongly about the need to attack and kill those terrorists who attack and kill our people. I know people who died on 9/11. I will never forget those events. I will use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as President I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.
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