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Human Rights Watch Keeping Close Watch on Trump

by AFP
Brendan Smialowski—AFP

Brendan Smialowski—AFP

Watchdog chief says U.S. president-elect’s tough talk on torture, drones should not be allowed to become official policy.

Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth said he was keeping a close eye on “warning signs” from U.S. president-elect Donald Trump after the Republican’s tough talk during his campaign about torture and drone strikes.

“I don’t take entirely seriously what he said on the campaign trail… I don’t take entirely at face value that he is going to kill families [which] is just a blatant war crime,” Roth told AFP. “We are not assuming the worst, but we are also pushing to ensure that the worst doesn’t become official policy,” the HRW executive director said during a visit to Paris.

Last December Trump said that as president he would order the United States to “take out” the families of terrorists.

Roth said outgoing President Barack Obama left the door open for Trump to revive disturbing policies from the George W. Bush years by taking “half steps.”

“Torture is a good example. Obama stopped the Bush torture but he refused to prosecute the Bush torturers,” Roth said. “Even though he tightened the law against torture, which is clearly illegal, the fact that no one has been prosecuted makes it easier for Trump to resume it. So it was a positive step, but only a half step.”

Trump has “backed off… a little bit but he said during the campaign that he’d like to use waterboarding or worse … even if it doesn’t work.”

On the use of drones, Roth said Obama had spelt out the “proper standard” for strikes outside war zones, for example in Yemen and Somalia, which is that “lethal force can be used only to meet an imminent lethal threat.” But in practice, “he has allowed the CIA and the Pentagon to use an extremely elastic definition of imminence,” Roth said. As a result, “even participation in a terrorist plot, which is extremely weak, often just a young male associated with a known suspect,” can be used as justification.

“It could be the pizza delivery guy,” Roth said, adding that Obama’s approach had made it “easier for Trump” to use a looser standard.

On Obama’s failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, Roth said he had “taken steps to do so by reducing its population but refused to end Bush’s long-term detention without trial.” The president, who had made the camp’s closure a top campaign pledge in 2007, “refused to spend the political capital to veto the legislation that has made it harder for him to transfer people to the United States,” Roth said. “In terms of counterterrorism [Obama] was obviously a big step forward from Bush, but he didn’t really close off the abuse of counter-terrorism practices, meaning that it will be easier for Trump to revive them if he wants.”

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