The United States’ ban on waterboarding and other forms of torture qualifies as “political correctness,” according to James Mitchell, a key figure behind the CIA’s torture program.
Mitchell discussed the CIA’s torture program, as well as his interactions with high-profile terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.
“The same thing has happened to the word torture that has happened to the word racist. It has lost its meaning,” Mitchell said, addressing the waterboarding ban.
Related: CIA Torture Report
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who’s poised to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, after he joined Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. to endorse the release of a report on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at secret overseas facilities after the 9/11 terror attacks. Some Republican leaders objected to the report’s release and challenged its contention that harsh tactics didn’t work, but McCain, tortured in Vietnam as a prisoner of war, welcomed the report and endorsed its findings. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
He continued: “At some point, if this obsessive political correctness continues, we’re going to be standing on the moral high ground, looking down into a smoking hole that used to be several blocks in Los Angeles.”
To avoid catastrophe, Mitchell said, people have to make “hard decisions,” and he condemned his critics for what he characterized as the hypocrisy of censuring enhanced interrogation methods while asking intelligence officers to keep Americans safe using whatever means necessary.
Mitchell has been harshly criticized by human rights advocates and the American Psychological Association for the tactics he and other interrogators employed while attempting to elicit information from suspected terrorists.
A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program found that in addition to waterboarding, interrogators implemented rectal feeding, made threats of rape and murder against the families and children of terrorists, killed at least one prisoner by hypothermia, and forced some prisoners to play Russian Roulette. The report found that the tactics used had ultimately proved ineffective.
Mitchell challenged the report’s findings on Tuesday, saying enhanced interrogation tactics had proven useful in eliciting important snippets of information from suspected terrorists. He added that he wouldn’t classify waterboarding as torture.
“If [waterboarding] was torture, they wouldn’t have had to pass a law in 2015 outlawing it. Because torture’s already illegal,” Mitchell said, referring to a 2015 law that limits government interrogation techniques to those listed in the Army Field Manual, which details humane methods of interrogation and does not include waterboarding.
President-elect Donald Trump has said in the past that he would like to implement waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” because “torture works.” Trump indicated in November that his pick for Secretary of Defense, Marine Gen. James Mattis, convinced him to rethink his stance on waterboarding.
Reinstating waterboarding would not be easy. It is currently prohibited by federal law and faces bipartisan opposition in Congress.