WASHINGTON – Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the United States should use waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques when questioning terror suspects, and renewed his call for tougher U.S. border security after the attacks in Brussels.
The billionaire businessman, in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program, said authorities “should be able to do whatever they have to do” to gain information in an effort to thwart future attacks.
“Waterboarding would be fine. If they can expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding,” Trump said, adding he believed torture could spark useful leads for officials. “You have to get the information from these people.”
Waterboarding, the practice of pouring water over someone’s face to simulate drowning as an interrogation tactic, was banned by President Barack Obama days after he took office in 2009. Critics call it torture.
“I am in the camp where you have to get the information, and you have to get it rapidly,” Trump said, adding “liberal” laws in Europe had made it hard to counter potential attacks.
Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, also reiterated the need for tougher measures to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, particularly Syrian refugees, across the border.
“As president … I would be very, very tough on the borders, and I would be not allowing certain people to come into this country without absolute perfect documentation,” said Trump, campaigning to become the Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 election that will decide Obama’s successor.
The Brussels attacks brought national security back to the top of the 2016 presidential election agenda, possibly sharpening divisions between Trump’s isolationist approach to foreign policy and his Republican rivals’ more traditional interventionist outlook.
On Monday, Trump expressed skepticism about the U.S. role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and said the United States should significantly cut spending on the defense alliance.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s suicide bomb attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital that killed at least 30 people.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton acknowledged Americans have a right to be frightened after a spate of recent attacks but said military leaders have found techniques like waterboarding are not effective.
“We’ve got to work this through consistent with our values,” she said on NBC, adding officials “do not need to resort to torture, but they are going to need more help.”
Trump’s top Republican rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, renewed his call for an immediate halt to Obama’s plan to admit thousands of Syrian refugees to the United States and suggested heightened police scrutiny of neighborhoods with large Muslim populations.
“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” he said in a statement.
Cruz also criticized Trump’s call for cutting the U.S. spending on NATO, which he said should join the United States in “utterly destroying ISIS,” an acronym for Islamic State.
Republican rival John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, struck a more diplomatic tone after the attacks, pledging to “redouble our efforts with our allies” and saying the United States “must strengthen our alliances” in the face of acts of terror.
Earlier attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, have shocked Americans and pushed security issues to the forefront of the White House campaign debate.
When 130 people were killed in Paris in November, the threat of terrorism jumped from fifth to first on a Reuters/Ipsos poll list of the country’s most important problems and remained there until the economy moved back to the top of the list in mid-January.
Walid Phares, named by Trump this week as one of his foreign policy experts, told Reuters the Brussels attacks would force Europe and the United States to “reassess” counterterrorism strategies in “identifying the radicalized elements and also the type of protection soft targets need.”
Trump looks to take another step toward winning the Republican presidential nomination in contests in Arizona and Utah on Tuesday, aiming to deal another setback to the party establishment’s flagging stop-Trump movement.
He has a big lead in convention delegates who will pick the Republican nominee, defying weeks of attacks from members of the party establishment worried he will lead the Republicans to defeat in November.
In Arizona, one of the U.S. states that borders Mexico, Trump’s hard-line immigration message is popular and he leads in polls, while in Utah Trump lags in polls behind Cruz.
In addition to the temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, Trump has called for the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to halt illegal immigration.
Republican presidential candidates seized on the terror bombings in Brussels Tuesday to demand that Muslim refugees be kept out of the United States, blaming Europe’s open immigration policies for the outrage.
Trump repeated his call for closing U.S. borders “until we figure out what’s going on” — a call Clinton said was unrealistic.
“Belgium is a horror show right now. Terrible things are happening. People are leaving. People are afraid. This all happened because, frankly, there’s no assimilation,” he said on NBC News.
Cruz also called for suspending the resettlement of refugees from countries where the Islamic State group or al-Qaida control territory, saying the administration’s plans to bring in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the civil war there “makes no sense.”
“We need a president who unleashes the full force and fury on ISIS and utterly destroys them. That the only way to keep us safe,” he said.
The apparently coordinated bomb blasts in Brussels — for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility — ripped through the city’s international airport and a metro train in a station, killing about 35 people.
The attacks came four days after Belgian authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
In the United States, the scenes from Brussels added fuel to an already inflamed Republican debate over immigration and the conduct of a U.S.-led war against Islamic State fighters, who control large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.
“Belgium is no longer Belgium. Belgium is not the Belgium you and I knew from 20 years ago, which was one of the most beautiful and safest cities in the world,” Trump told NBC.
Asked what he would say to the American people in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack, he added: “We are going to be very vigilant and tough. We’re not going to allow it to happen to our country.
“If it happens, we’ll find the people who did it and they’ll suffer greatly.”
Speaking to Fox News, Trump — who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States — described Brussels as once being “a beautiful city, a beautiful place with zero crime. And now it’s a disaster city. It’s a total disaster.
“We have to be very careful in the United States. We have to be very, very vigilant as to who we allow into this country.”
Clinton — who could possibly face Trump in November’s general election — countered that it was “unrealistic to say we’re going to completely shut down our borders to everyone.”
Kasich, the more moderate of the three remaining candidates in the Republican race, urged Obama to move quickly to examine U.S. vulnerabilities and “dig in and begin to rebuild the intelligence we need worldwide.”
“I think Europe popped up its doors without having a proper vetting process,” he said, referring to the waves of immigrants from the Syrian civil war that have pushed into Europe.
He faulted Obama for not acting forcefully enough to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad and for failing to establish no-fly zones.