Trump 'surprised' by Mattis waterboarding comments

Story highlights

  • Trump talked to Ret. General Mattis about waterboarding
  • Trump previously campaigned to reinstate the torture method

(CNN)President-elect Donald Trump said a conversation with Ret. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis gave him a new perspective on waterboarding, a torture tool he has pledged to reinstate.

"General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, 'What do you think of waterboarding?'" Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday. "He said -- I was surprised -- he said, 'I've never found it to be useful.' He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.'"
Trump added, "I'm not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we're not allowed to waterboard. But I'll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer."
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Trump is considering Mattis to serve as his secretary of defense.
The President-elect said he would be influenced by Americans' views of waterboarding.
"It's not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it's so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that," he said. "But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say."
Mattis has been widely praised for his 44 years of service. The combat commander led a task force into southern Afghanistan in 2001 before leading a Marine division at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
A four-star general, Mattis was recognized for his leadership in the 2004 Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, one of the bloodiest of the war, although he was criticized shortly after in 2005 for saying "it's fun to shoot some people" while addressing service members in San Diego.