When the Bush administration developed its torture program, it deployed legal arguments to obscure the fact that the techniques being used, such as waterboarding, were indeed forms of torture.
Where it appears to have been non-deceptive was in claiming that the purpose — ill-conceived as this might have been — was gathering intelligence. (Abu Graib, on the other hand, demonstrated the inevitable proliferation of abuse that followed from presidentially sanctioned torture.)
The use of extreme methods was justified, the proponents of what were euphemistically described as “harsh interrogation techniques” said, because of the magnitude of threat posed by terrorist plots.
In contrast, when Donald Trump talks about torture and about reducing the legal restrictions on what is currently permitted, he’s not talking about interrogation. He’s talking about the use of torture as a weapon of intimidation.
ISIS doesn’t decapitate its captives in order to extract information. It’s use of brutality is designed to intimidate its opponents and to force populations into submission.
Like ISIS, Trump sees all things in terms of the power dynamics of domination.
Since brutality has been one of the most effective weapons in ISIS’s arsenal, when Trump says, “You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” he is arguing that the United States needs to become as capable of provoking terror as are any of the terrorists it wants to combat.