Overnight Defense: Mattis opposes torture despite Trump remarks | Gitmo numbers likely to rise | Dem to offer base closure plan

PENTAGON: MATTIS REMAINS OPPOSED TO TORTURE: Defense Secretary James Mattis is not wavering on his opposition to torture, the Pentagon said Thursday, despite President Trump endorsing its usage the day before.  

"Secretary Mattis said in his confirmation process that he will abide by and is committed to upholding international law, the Law of Armed Conflict, Geneva Conventions and U.S. law, and that has not changed," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Thursday. 

President Trump in an interview Wednesday evening on ABC News seemed to give conflicting statements on whether he would bring back the use of torture. 

The Hill's Kristina Wong has the story here

GITMO NUMBERS LIKELY TO RISE UNDER TRUMP: The Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba has seen its population continually shrink since 2008 to the point that it now holds only 41 prisoners.

That trend may be about to change.

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President Trump has pledged to "load" Guantánamo "up with some bad dudes," and executive orders he is expected to sign on Thursday will represent a sea change from the last eight years of U.S. policy.

While it is uncertain whether Trump will follow up on his vow, outside groups are preparing for a major battle.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the story

GOP WANTS TRUMP TO EXEMPT VA FROM HIRING FREEZE: Two top Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing President Trump to offer clarity to the Department of Veterans Affairs over his federal hiring freeze.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate ethics panel wants details on sexual harassment allegations Senate leaders push tax debate into Friday Senate Ethics Committee opens 'preliminary inquiry' into Franken allegations MORE (R-Ga.) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees, respectively, urged Trump in a letter Thursday to exempt VA direct patient care providers from the hiring freeze.

"On behalf of the over six million veterans nationwide who rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, we are writing to respectfully request that you provide guidance indicating that exempting VA direct patient care providers is consistent with the tenants of and latitude permitted in your January 23rd Executive Order pertaining to a Federal civilian employee hiring freeze," they wrote.

The chairmen's letter comes on the heels of a separate one on Wednesday signed by dozens of Democrats that called on Trump to exempt the entire VA from his hiring freeze, saying it could delay veterans' access to health care and resolution of their disability claims.

Trump signed an executive order Monday that freezes all federal government hiring except in the military. There are also exceptions for public safety and public health jobs.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has more here

TOP DEM PLANS TO REINTRODUCE BASE CLOSURE PLAN: The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says he's planning to reintroduce a bill that would allow the Pentagon to close excess military bases.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithCongress, cut the continuing resolutions so Defense can do its job Week ahead: Lawmakers look to break deadlock on defense funding Pentagon eyeing West Coast missile defense sites: report MORE's (D-Wash.) announcement comes after Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.), the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they are considering the possibility of closing bases to cut spending.

"We should not be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money to maintain excess infrastructure that [the Department of Defense] has determined it does not need," Smith said in a statement Thursday.

Rebecca Kheel has more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW: 

Jay Solomon, author of "The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East," speaks at the Heritage Foundation at 12 p.m. For more information go to www.heritage.org

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Intel Committee Dems to Trump: Read torture report

-- The Hill: State Dept. senior management team resigns: report

-- The Hill: In break with Trump, GOP leaders say torture should remain illegal

-- The Hill: Priebus: Why do taxpayer dollars go to sanctuary cities that 'defy' laws?

-- The Hill: Trump review exposes GOP divide on torture 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K