Since the inauguration of Donald Trump last week, hopes that his hateful and divisive presidential campaign would not set the tone for his presidency have been swiftly dashed. His term in office began with an inaugural speech promoting “America First”, and has since rapidly descended into a realisation of some of his campaign’s most abhorrent pledges.
In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Trump confirmed fears over his support for torture as an interrogation technique. In the interview, he asserted his eagerness to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse”. When asked whether he believes torture to be an effective method of interrogation, he replied: “Absolutely, I feel it works”.
These comments have sparked concerns over a return to Bush-era style ‘black sites’, and the abuses that took place in Iraqi prisons during the mid-2000s. Torture is unquestionably wrong, and violates the autonomy, dignity, and humanity of the victim. It dehumanises those who are subject to it, and is absolutely not something that should still be taking place in the 21st century.
Trump’s approval of torture is not only alarming from an ethical standpoint, it also actively ignores the conclusions that academics and policy-makers have come to regarding its effectiveness. Many studies, including a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee Report have confirmed that it is not only ineffective, but can actually be counterproductive. A detainee who has undergone waterboarding, force-feeding, forced sleep deprivation and frequent beatings will tell an interrogator whatever they want to hear, regardless of whether or not it is the truth.
In a further move on Friday, Trump issued an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. The order indefinitely bans all Syrian refugees from entry into the US, as well as nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. It has since been revealed that this also includes people with dual nationality, and puts the status of green card holders in jeopardy.
The immigration ban will undoubtedly stoke the fires of Islamophobia and racism, and wrongly makes sweeping assumptions on the status of Middle Eastern Muslims. It is important to note that it was issued on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when we remember the atrocities committed against Jewish people during the Second World War, some of whom were denied entry to the US during the 1930s.
Despite this, Theresa May rushed to be the first world leader to visit the new President on Friday, and a joint press conference saw the pair pledge to renew the so-called ‘special relationship’. Despite mounting pressure from MPs, human rights organisations, peers, and the general public, May has repeatedly refused to condemn Trump’s actions.
During a later press conference held with the Turkish President on Saturday, May dodged questions from British journalists on why she has cozied up to Trump, stating: “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.” Although she has since issued a statement reassuring the British people that she “does not agree” with the immigration ban, this declaration is too little and too late. May should have taken the opportunity during her Washington visit to decisively oppose Trump’s hateful policies, and to demonstrate that Britain will stand up for openness and compassion.
To ignore Trump’s immigration ban and his comments on torture is to condone them. In the words of South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
The question now remains, how will history view May’s inaction? The hashtag ‘#TheresaTheAppeaser’ has already racked up thousands of mentions on Twitter, in reference to Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous failure to challenge the actions of Adolf Hitler in 1938. It may seem over-dramatic to make this comparison, but fears are mounting over the possibility of worse to come if we sit by and watch the leader of the free world violate the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Theresa May must be mindful of this, and act to ensure that she is not found standing on the wrong side of history.
STAND UK asks you to take a stand with us against the President’s divisive politics. Outside the US, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of Trump’s #RefugeeBan. However, you can write to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and call on her to condemn this act and call for it to be rescinded by following this link. Click on the document below for relevant resources to the UK and Europe.
This post was written by Jess Edington, who is studying an MA in International relations at the University of Birmingham and is part of the STAND UK Communications Taskforce.