Trump weighs return to CIA black sites: report

Trump weighs return to CIA black sites: report
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The White House is preparing an executive order that would smooth the path for the CIA to reopen “black site” detention facilities where it held and interrogated terrorism suspects before the Obama administration shuttered them, The New York Times reports.

The three-page order would reportedly revoke a series of Obama administration executive orders that closed the sites, granted Red Cross access to all detainees and limited interrogators to techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

In its place, it would resurrect a 2007 George W. Bush order that designated specific prisoner abuses as war crimes — protecting interrogators from prosecution for the use of techniques not on the list, including, for example, extended sleep deprivation.

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during his Tuesday briefing that the draft "is not a White House document.” 

“I’m not sure where it came from or where it originated, but it is not a White House document,” he said.

The draft order would not immediately allow the CIA to resume the use of so-called “enhanced-interrogation techniques” (EITs) prohibited by the Army Field Manual. Congress later codified the Obama administration rule in statute, and that law remains in place.

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But the draft order says that high-level officials should conduct reviews and offer recommendations to Trump.

Among the targets of those reviews: Whether the field manual should be changed and “whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States” by the CIA — including any “legislative proposals” necessary to revive the program. 

Trump has in the past offered a full-throated endorsement of a return to the use of techniques many decry as torture — like waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” — because “torture works” and “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”

"Experience has shown that obtaining critical intelligence information is vital to taking determined offensive action, including military action, against those groups that make war on us and are actively plotting further attacks," reads an explanatory statement of the draft order published by The Washington Post.

The statement dings the U.S. under the Obama administration for "refrain[ing] from exercising certain authorities critical to its defense" — including the 2009 Obama executive order. It also notes that "Congress imposed further restrictions on the ability of the Central Intelligence Agency to maintain an effective and lawful interrogation program."

"[The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act] provides a significant statutory barrier to the resumption of the CIA interrogation program," the statement reads.

The proposal earned swift pushback from Capitol Hill.

“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America," Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainArizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health MORE (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

"The reopening of black sites, the reexamination of whether we ought to go back to EITs — all of this I think is deeply disparaging to the country," Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff says Trump intel chief won't comply with subpoena over whistleblower Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Schiff: Diplomacy with Iran 'only way out of this situation' MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said at a Center for American Progress event Wednesday morning.

It’s unclear if the CIA, under its newly confirmed director, Mike Pompeo, would be enthusiastic about a return to torture.

Pompeo during his confirmation hearing promised lawmakers that he would “absolutely not” comply with an order from the then-president-elect to resume the use of interrogation techniques considered by the international community to be torture.

“Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect,” he said.

He agreed that it would require a change in law for the CIA to lawfully employ interrogation techniques beyond those contained in the Army Field Manual.

But in a series of written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pompeo said that he would consult with CIA experts to determine whether the methods in the field manual are sufficient — and work with experts to offer recommendations to make changes if they aren’t.

The apparent contradiction alarmed many Democrats, who cited his position on torture as a determining factor in their decision to vote against him.

“Federal law now clearly prohibits torture and ‘cruel, inhumane, and degrading’ treatment of detainees, and prohibits interrogation techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual. We cannot go backwards on this seminal issue of human rights,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Pressley on Kavanaugh impeachment: 'Deeply disturbing' that a justice 'could have this many allegations' MORE (D-Ill.) in a statement.

From his former post on the House Intelligence Committee, Pompeo condemned the Obama administration rules limiting government interrogators to techniques in the field manual — regulations that are up for review this year.

Critics of the use of EITs argue that they are not only inhumane, but also ineffective.

And Trump’s own Defense secretary has been opposed on the subject.

“I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture,” Trump in a November interview said that retired Gen. James Mattis told him — noting that he was surprised but unmoved by the statement.

--This report was updated at 1:35 p.m.