U.S. President Donald Trump is moving to review how America interrogates suspected terrorists and possibly reopen secret “black site” prisons outside the United States run by the Central Intelligence Agency that former President Barack Obama shut down.
A draft Trump executive order on interrogation methods and the CIA was circulating Wednesday among high-level officials in Washington, although it is unclear when the new U.S. leader might sign the edict for the review.
The prospective order would keep open the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 41 suspected terrorists are still held, despite Obama’s unsuccessful effort to close the facility during the eight years of his presidency. Obama contended operation of the facility, where the CIA used so-called “enhanced interrogation” in questioning suspects until Obama banned it, served as a recruiting tool for Islamic State terrorists.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump endorsed bringing back waterboarding that simulates drowning, an enhanced interrogation method that Obama banned and now has been prohibited by U.S. law.
Trump said at one point he wanted to renew the use of waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse,” arguing that “torture works,” and even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.” Since then, however, he has tempered his public statements, noting Defense Secretary James Mattis’s advice that torture of suspected terrorists is ineffective in thwarting future attacks.
Trump also vowed to keep Guantanamo open, saying, “We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”
The draft order calls for top national security officials to “recommend to the president whether to re-initiate 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 CIA, which the U.S. spy agency controlled after the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The CIA is believed to have run the clandestine prisons in Iraq, Lithuania, Thailand, Romania, Afghanistan and Poland.
The draft document says U.S. laws should be obeyed at all times and explicitly rejects “torture.” U.S. law currently limits interrogation techniques to those found in the U.S. Army Field Manual, which does not include waterboarding or other types of enhanced interrogation.
Trump’s reconsideration of extreme types of interrogation drew an immediate rebuke from Arizona Senator John McCain. The unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidate was a U.S. naval fighter jet pilot who was captured by North Vietnam in the 1960s and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes,” McCain said. “But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
McCain said he had been assured by defense chief Mattis and new CIA Director Mike Pompeo that they would adhere to the Army Field Manual’s limits on interrogation of terrorist suspects.