(Washington, November 18, 2016) – President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has refused to rule out proposals by Trump that would constitute torture despite his having spoken out against the use of torture in the past.
“Michael Flynn has previously strongly criticized US use of torture but would not categorically rule it out in more recent interviews,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “He should unequivocally renounce the use of torture by the US and reaffirm US commitments to international human rights and humanitarian law.”
On several occasions Trump has said he would allow United States personnel to commit waterboarding and other methods of torture. In November 2015, he said at a rally that he would approve waterboarding “in a heartbeat” because “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.” In February 2016, he said: “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work. Torture works, OK folks?” And at another event the same month he said that as president he would “immediately” resume waterboarding: “Some people say it’s not actually torture – let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: ‘What are you going to do on waterboarding?’ Absolutely fine, but we should go much stronger than waterboarding. That’s the way I feel.”
After a debate in which Trump indicated he might order the US military to break the law on interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, his campaign issued a statement noting, “I do … 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.” Shortly thereafter, however, Trump then suggested he would push to change laws that prohibit waterboarding and other interrogation techniques clearly associated with torture – even though longstanding international human rights and humanitarian law prohibit the use of torture and other ill-treatment under any circumstances.
Flynn told Al Jazeera in January that he thought history would look poorly on US use of torture. “I think that our entire system at that time was guilty,” he said. “Was guilty of just totally inappropriate behavior.” Asked whether torture should be prosecuted, Flynn replied: “Absolutely.” However, in an interview in May he refused to rule out Trump’s proposed use of torture. “I am a believer in leaving as many options on the table right up until the last possible minute.”
“Instead of leaving torture on the table, Flynn should unequivocally renounce it under any circumstances,” Margon said.
Note: This has been edited to reflect a broader range of comments Flynn has made about torture and the laws of war.