The Cable

Trump Flip-Flops on Promise to Torture Suspects, Kill Families of Terrorists

Donald Trump has changed course on his widely-condemned promise to bring back torture and kill families of terrorists.

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It’s taken nearly a year, but GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has finally blinked in the face of withering criticism over two of his most controversial policies.

On Friday, Trump promised to uphold international laws regarding the treatment of terror suspects and their families. In effect, this reverses his earlier pledge to kill the families of terrorists as part of his efforts to fight the Islamic State and other extremist groups. It also appears to change course on his promise to bring back torture; both policies have been widely condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he would “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.”

This is a far cry — and a quick turnabout — from comments he made Thursday night during a contentious Republican debate in Detroit. Trump said then he would stick to his pledge to do things “hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding to suspects, and that he would authorize the military to kill family members of terrorists.

“I’ve always been a leader,” the billionaire businessman said Thursday night. “I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Unfortunately for Trump, that’s not the case. Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden predicted last week the military would flatly refuse to obey orders to kill terrorists’ families and torture suspects. Earlier this week, a group of 106 GOP national security leaders and wonks condemned Trump’s policies. Torture and family murder violate the Geneva Conventions.

Trump has often used torture and killing families of terrorists to gin up applause during his political rallies. Whether his reversal will now cost him votes remains to be seen.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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