US President Donald Trump has made clear that his defence secretary’s opposition to torture would override his own belief that enhanced interrogation “does work”.
Mr Trump was addressing concerns about a return to Bush-era use of waterboarding and other forms of interrogation and torture.
Since taking office, Mr Trump has signalled a renewed embrace of torture in the fight against Islamic extremism.
But he said he would defer to the views of his defence secretary, James Mattis, who has questioned the effectiveness of such practices as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
“He has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding, or however you want to define it – enhanced interrogation I guess would be a word …that a lot of people would like to use.
“I don’t necessarily agree. But I would tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power. He’s an expert,” Mr Trump said. He called Mr Mattis a “general’s general,” whom he would rely upon.
“I happen to feel that it does work. I’ve been open about that for a long period of time. But I am going with our leaders. And we’re going to win with or without. But I do disagree.”
The focus on torture has been renewed since news organisations obtained a copy of a draft executive order that signals sweeping changes to US interrogation and detention policy.
The draft order, which the White House said was not official, also would reverse President Barack Obama’s effort to close the military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – a place Mr Trump has said he wants to fill up “with bad dudes”.
The draft orders up recommendations on whether the US should reopen CIA detention facilities outside the United States. Critics said the clandestine sites have marred America’s image on the world stage.
At a new conference in the Oval Office alongside British premier Theresa May, Mr Trump also spoke of his hour-long phone call with Pena Nieto earlier in the day.
He described it as a “friendly call” a day after the Mexican leader cancelled his visit to Washington after Mr Trump moved forward on his campaign promise to build a border wall.
Mr Trump reiterated his stance that the US-Mexico border is porous and drugs are making their way into the US.
He also vowed to renegotiate American trade deals with Mexico.
Following the cancellation, Mr Trump’s spokesman said the White House would seek to pay for the border wall by slapping a 20% tax on all imports from Mexico, as well as on other countries the US has a trade deficit with. The White House later cast the proposal as just one option to pay for the wall.
The strong reaction from Mexico signaled a remarkable souring of relations between Washington and one of its most important international partners just days into the new administration. The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to drug enforcement to major environmental issues.
Later in the day, the president was to travel to the Pentagon, where he was expected to sign a trio of executive actions, including one to halve the flow of refugees into the United Sates and stop all entries from some majority-Muslim nations.