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 IsaksonTrump keeps up attacks on 'horrible' McCain, despite calls from GOP, veterans Crenshaw to Trump: 'Stop talking about McCain' Scaramucci: Trump McCain attacks are 'socially unnatural,' 'stupid' 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 Smith737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Acting Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman MORE's (D-Wash.) announcement comes after Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLou Dobbs: Political criticism of McCain 'not an exhumation of his body' Trump rips McCain, says he gave Steele dossier to FBI for 'very evil purposes' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Top Marine warns border deployment could hurt readiness | McSally aims for sexual assault reforms in defense bill | House to vote on measure opposing transgender ban | New warning over F-35 sale to Turkey Marine Corps commander: Using troops at southern border an 'unacceptable risk' to readiness Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths 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