A draft presidential order being circulated in the Trump administration could signal a return to the executive-branch lawlessness that followed September 11, 2001.
A draft of the executive order obtained by the New York Times and Washington Post calls for senior officials to consider reopening the CIA’s network of secret prisons, where terror suspects were disappeared and deprived of their rights.
And by rescinding President Obama’s 2009 executive order that banned torture and closed the CIA’s prisons — where many of the worst abuses of CIA’s post-9/11 torture program took place – it paves the way for illegal torture to take place in secret.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer disputed the authenticity of the draft order on Wednesday, saying that it is “not a White House document,” and that he had “no idea where it came from.” But when asked whether the administration was considering reopening black sites, Spicer refused to answer, saying he would not comment on the document.
The executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s exhaustive Torture Report, released in 2014, described brutal, inhumane and cruel treatment — and definitively concluded that CIA claims that the program had “saved lives,” “thwarted plots,” and “captured terrorists” were lies.
In clips from an interview with ABC News released on Wednesday, Trump said he believed torture tactics like waterboarding were appropriate and effective, but that he would heed the advice of his cabinet appointees.
“Would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire,” Trump said. “With that being said, I’m going with General [James] Mattis, I’m going with my Secretary Pompeo,” he said, referring to his CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. “I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally. But do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works. ”
The draft order acknowledges a “significant statutory barrier to the resumption of the CIA interrogation [torture] program,” but also condemns President Obama for disclosures about it, and for opening a criminal probe into the “actions of intelligence officers,” which it claims “had a predictably negative impact on the morale of the intelligence community.” The Justice Department closed the probe without charges in 2012.
In fact, restarting the torture program would be illegal under a 2015 law Congress passed that restricts interrogation techniques to those listed in the Army Field Manual. CIA Director Pompeo acknowledged the effect of that law during his confirmation hearing — although he said in his written responses after the hearing that he would be open to altering the law.
Both of the Senate sponsors of that 2015 law — California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain – expressed concerns Wednesday that the draft order signaled an intent to violate that law.