WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 on Obama’s successor.
The Brussels attacks brought national security back to the top of the 2016 presidential election agenda, possibly sharpening division 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 which 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. Senator 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” counter-terrorism 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 hardline 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.
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise, Susan Heavey and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Chris Kahn in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)