Mattis, Pompeo stunned by CIA ‘black sites’ report – Politico
Two of the officials who will be in charge of carrying out President Donald Trump’s terrorism detainee policies, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, were “blindsided” by reports of a draft executive order that would require the CIA to reconsider using interrogation techniques that some consider torture, according to sources with knowledge of their thinking.
Lawmakers in both parties denounced the draft order on Wednesday even as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he had “no idea where it came from” and that it is “not a White House document.”
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It’s unclear who wrote the draft order or whether Trump will sign it, though members of Congress in both parties were taking that prospect seriously on Wednesday.
Some members of Congress said the document raised the specter of Trump following through on campaign vows to bring back waterboarding and other George W. Bush-era torture practices, which many lawmakers consider a shameful chapter of U.S. history.
The document, obtained and published by The New York Times and Washington Post, calls for the director of national intelligence to review whether to bring back the CIA’s infamous black-site prisons. Those were secret overseas facilities where the CIA carried out brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects from 2001 to 2006, as documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 investigation into the issue.
The draft order says terrorism suspects in U.S. custody will not be subject to “torture” or “degrading treatment.” But it characterizes a 2016 law barring torture as “a significant statutory barrier” and would revoke an executive order signed by President Barack Obama stating that suspects must be treated in compliance with international law.
The executive order would also mandate that the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continue to be used to detain terrorism suspects captured abroad. And it would require the defense secretary to make recommendations about whether additional interrogation techniques need to be added to the Army Field Manual.
Trump himself did little to quell the unease about the document on Wednesday, telling ABC News he believes waterboarding “works,” though he added he would defer to Mattis and Pompeo on the issue.
The defense secretary and CIA director have signaled they oppose reinstating Bush-era interrogation practices. The CIA declined to comment on the draft executive order on Wednesday, and a Pentagon spokesman pointed to Spicer’s remarks.
Despite the questions about who wrote the document, more than a half-dozen lawmakers issued statements denouncing it. They’re likely trying to get out front of any attempt by Trump to return the country to now-outlawed interrogation techniques.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Mattis and Pompeo on Wednesday to reiterate “that any attempt by this administration to restart torture is absolutely unacceptable,” according to the Virginia senator.
“I intend to hold nominees, including Director Pompeo and Secretary Mattis, to their sworn testimony to follow the law banning the use of enhanced interrogation techniques,” Warner said, adding that he would seek the same assurance from former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence.
Sen. John McCain, who endured torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, said in a statement, “We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
The Arizona Republican last year worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to get an amendment added to the annual defense authorization bill banning torture and limiting interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual. The amendment was adopted in the Senate, 78-21.
“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes,” McCain said. “But the law is the law.”
Meanwhile, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said he believes the issue is “settled law” and does not “anticipate that will change.”
“With respect to torture, that’s banned,” he said at the GOP’s policy retreat in Philadelphia. “The Army Field Manual makes that very clear and the law now is tied to the Army Field Manual.”
Not every member of Congress, though, believes in a total ban on torture. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, for instance, said in an interview Wednesday that he believes it should be “in the hip pocket in extreme emergencies.”
“To rule it out entirely is short-sighted because you never know what situation may arise where there’s hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” said the Illinois Republican, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Air Force. “You can never rule anything out entirely in my mind. Now that doesn’t mean we revert to it knee-jerk or anything like that, but defending the country and defending people is my No. 1 priority.”
Daniel Jones, who was the lead investigator for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, said he believes the McCain-Feinstein amendment clearly prohibits both torture and bringing back secret CIA interrogation facilities.
In an interview, Jones, who now runs a research and investigatory firm, said that even if Trump doesn’t sign the draft executive order, the fact that it is being floated is a bad sign.
“It sends a terrible message to the world and undermines our authority when it comes to treating detainees humanely,” Jones said. “This is not who we are as a nation.”
Seung Min Kim, Burgess Everett and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.