Top U.S. general, without citing Trump, warns on troops' morale

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair USMC General Joseph Dunford Jr. testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer told the Senate on Thursday that it would harm the morale of U.S. forces to order them to carry out activities such as waterboarding or targeting civilians, options previously cited by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not comment on U.S. politics, and Trump’s name did not come up in a question put to him by Senator Lindsey Graham or in Dunford’s response.

However, when asked by Graham, a former 2016 White House contender and frequent Trump critic, what the impact such tactics would have on the morale of the force, Dunford said:

“Those kinds of activities that you described are inconsistent with the values of our nation. And quite frankly I think it would have an adverse effect,” citing fallout on the morale of the force.

“And frankly what you are suggesting are things that actually aren’t legal for them to do anyway,” Dunford added.

During the campaign, Trump indicated that, if elected president, he might order the U.S. military to break the law on interrogation tactics, including waterboarding. Trump also suggested his willingness to target the families of terrorist suspects.

Trump, the Republican front-runner, softened his stance on torture earlier in March, saying he would not order the U.S. military to break international laws on how to treat terrorism suspects.

Waterboarding is the practice of pouring water over someone’s face to mimic drowning as an interrogation tactic. Critics say it is torture. Democratic President Barack Obama banned use of the method days after taking office in 2009.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish