White House denies creating document cited by media as first step in reopening controversial overseas prisons to torture suspects.
The Trump administration is drafting an order allowing the CIA to reopen overseas “black site” prisons used to torture suspects after 9/11, media reported on Wednesday, although the White House denied creating the document.
The three-page order would undo many of the restrictions on handling detainees put in place under president Barack Obama to roll back practices authorized during George W. Bush’s administration, The New York Times reported. It would revoke the directive that gives the Red Cross access to all war detainees in U.S. custody, and would order the Pentagon to continue to use the Guantanamo military prison facility in Cuba “for the detention and trial of newly captured” detainees, including Islamic State jihadists, according to the Times.
The order calls for a high-level review of policies regarding secret overseas Central Intelligence Agency prisons, as well as of enhanced interrogation tactics that have been widely condemned as torture, and are now prohibited by U.S. law.
A Trump spokesman denied that the document had originated in the White House. “I have no idea where it came from, but it is not a White House document,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.
The Times published a copy of the draft executive order, entitled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” on its website. It says U.S. spy agencies, in consultation with the attorney general, shall review current intelligence needs and “recommend to the president whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States, and whether such program should include the use of detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Trump raised the possibility of reinstating harsh interrogation practices while campaigning for president, declaring last February that “torture works” and vowing to bring back waterboarding and “much worse.” In December, after meeting with retired general James Mattis, Trump said he was “impressed” with Mattis’s argument that building trust and rewarding cooperation by detainees worked better than waterboarding.
Mattis has since been sworn in as secretary of defense.
Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war who was tortured in Vietnam, expressed grave concern about a possible return of the Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques. “The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law,” McCain said in a statement. “We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
Trump’s cabinet picks in the national security realm, including congressman Mike Pompeo, who was recently sworn in as CIA director, made clear during their Senate confirmation hearings that they would not seek a return to the interrogation techniques that Obama halted. Asked whether he would approve of using techniques outside those outlined in the Army Field Manual, which sets rules for interrogation, Pompeo said “absolutely not.”
“I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or then president,” he said.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the prospect of a return to the use of waterboarding and “black sites” and said he would fight any effort to repeat what he called the “grievous mistakes” of the Bush era. “Even the suggestion that we may bring back these discredited policies does serious damage to our international standing and will make our allies in the fight against terror wary about cooperating with us,” Schiff said in a statement.