WASHINGTON, March 17 (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.
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German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (L) and the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford, arrive for a press conference at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif on December 22, 2013. Von der Leyen is on a two day visit in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford (2L) leaves the Afghan loya Jirga, a meeting of around 2,500 Afghan tribal elders and leaders, on the first day of the four-day long loya jirga in Kabul on November 21, 2013. Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed a proposed security pact with the United States that will see up to 15,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan as a chance to bring stability to the wartorn country. A grand assembly of tribal chieftains, community elders and politicians began four days of debating the bilateral security agreement (BSA), which will shape Washington's future military presence in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
General Joseph F. Dunford (L), Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and United States Forces in Afghanistan, shakes hands with a soldier during a naturalisation ceremony at the US base in Bagram, north of Kabul, on July 4, 2013. More than 30 US service members received their American citizenship in a naturalisation Ceremony at the Bagram airbase on July 4. The Naturalisation ceremony, held on the US Independence Day, is the final step in becoming a US citizen for these service members and recognises their sacrifice, contributions, and patriotism to the United States of America. AFP PHOTO/ SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Marine General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. speaks during a hearing of the Senate Armed Service Committee on Capitol Hill November 15, 2012 in Washington, DC. The committee called US Marine General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. to testify at his confirmation hearing to become the next Commander, International Security Assistance Force, and Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.