The president would have to determine if waterboarding would be an acceptable means of obtaining information, but the United States should not torture and never has, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Wednesday.
Cotton was interviewed for about 14 minutes by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to discuss the Tuesday terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, that killed at least 31 people. Cotton is a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and has been briefed about the situation.
Cotton said American soldiers volunteer for waterboarding as part of their training and that it is not a form of torture.
“If experienced and expert interrogators go to the president and say, we think this is a ticking time bomb situation and this is a technique that can elicit information that’s going to help stop the attack, then yes, I think that’s a tough call, but the presidency is a tough job, and tough people – if you don’t want to make tough calls, you shouldn’t seek that job,” he said.
Blitzer said Donald Trump has called for using torture techniques and asked if Cotton would support using it.
“No. The United States does not torture, nor have we ever tortured,” Cotton said. “But there are techniques beyond just asking politely or asking through a lawyer that we can use like sleep deprivation or like playing some loud music every now and then.”
Cotton pointed out that one of the bombers involved in the November Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was detained in Belgium on Friday.
“On Friday morning, the Belgium authorities captured a terrorist operative,” he said. “On Tuesday morning, his cohorts killed over 30 people in Belgium. If that happened in the United States, the American people would rightly ask a lot of tough questions about the kind of interrogation techniques that were used in that 96-hour period.”
Cotton said the attacks raise questions about Europe’s success in integrating Muslim immigrants into their culture. He said the United States does that better.
Blitzer asked Cotton about a suggestion by GOP presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that law enforcement patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.
“Sen. Cruz can speak for himself,” Cotton said. “I will say here in the United States, we’ve always done a better job of integrating immigrants from all around the world, to include immigrants from Muslim lands. And we have a high degree of cooperation and assistance from our Muslim citizens with law enforcement agencies like the FBI. We need to make sure that continues so those very communities aren’t subject to radicalization attempts by the Islamic State.”
Cotton criticized President Barack Obama for attending a baseball game in Cuba in the immediate aftermath of the attack. He said Obama should have gone to the U.S. embassy in Havana to monitor and address the situation.
The U.S. State Department has warned Americans traveling to Europe to be alert for “near-term” attacks. Asked how he would respond to Arkansas constituents thinking of traveling to Europe, he said he would tell them, “You might want to reconsider. If you do go, though, you want to heed the advice of the State Department and the local embassy about safe places to go and times to go to those places.”
Cotton said the attacks indicate the importance of aggressively countering the Islamic State, which carried out the attack.
“Ultimately it says you can’t win the war on terror playing a prevent defense,” he said. “You have to go on offense. To expect to be able to stop, say, every terrorist that rolls a piece of luggage into an airport is like expecting an NFL defense to be able to stop every goal-line stand when it’s first and goal from the 3.”
Cotton did not divulge details of a recent private meeting with Trump, except to say Trump has said many of the same things they discussed in public. Asked where he and Trump disagree, he said Trump has called for the United States to spend less money on NATO. He said Europeans should be encouraged to spend more. During the Cold War, Europe and the United States split funding equally, and now the United States bears 70% of the costs, he said.