- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

President Trump defended the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspects Wednesday, defying outrage from Capitol Hill and human rights advocates over claims he plans to lift an Obama administration ban on CIA secret “black site” prisons and revive torture tactics.

Mr. Trump did not propose bringing back waterboarding, an interrogation method that stimulates drowning and which critics denounce as torture, but did vouch for its effectiveness.

“Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with ABC News.

But he said that he would listen to advice from CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis on whether to use it on terrorism suspects.

“If they don’t want to do it, that’s fine. If they do want to do it, then I will work toward that end,” said Mr. Trump. “I want to do everything within the bounds of what we’re allowed to do if it’s legal.”

During the campaign, Mr. Trump said he wanted to bring back waterboarding.

The issue burst to the forefront in Washington after news organizations obtained a purported draft of a presidential order that would keep open the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and lift a ban on CIA secret “black site” prisons.

The three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” would reinstate a range of George W. Bush administration policies on treatment of terrorism detainees, signaling to some that Mr. Trump was bringing back waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The White House disclaimed the document, which was circulating in Washington after first reported by The New York Times.

“It is not a White House document. I have no idea where it came from but it is not a White House document,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at the daily press briefing. “I don’t know how much clearer I can say that.”

He also said that Mr. Trump had not directed anyone in the administration to draft the order.

Privately, some Trump administration officials suspected it was a case of “freelancing” by a rogue staffer or officials in another government agency.

Still, if Mr. Trump signed the order, it would rescind President Barack Obama’s directive allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross to access all detainees held by the U.S. abroad at CIA “dark sites.”

Regardless of the draft order, Mr. Trump is expected to keep open the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which Mr. Obama struggled throughout his presidency to close but only managed to reduce the population from more than 200 to 41.

Mr. Trump has pledged fill Gitmo with “bad dudes.”

Although the draft order does not reopen CIA prisons or revive torture tactics, the mere suggestion that the Trump administration is inching in that direction provoked an onslaught of opposition.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain warned the Trump administration against bringing back torture methods such as waterboarding.

“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,” said the Arizona Republican.

Mr. Obama banned waterboarding in a 2009 executive order. Congress enshrined the ban in law in 2015 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Mr. Trump, however, could seek to use of waterboarding with legal arguments similar to those used by the Bush administration that determined it wasn’t torture.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, urged Mr. Trump to read the committee’s 6,700-page classified report on CIA detention and interrogation from 2014.

“The report lays out in stark detail how this program was ineffective,” she said. “Capturing terrorist suspects and torturing them in secret facilities failed. Period.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said black sites and waterboarding “did nothing to make us safer and violated our fundamental values.”

“Even the suggestion that we may bring back these discredited policies does serious damage to our international standing and will make our allies in the fight against terror wary about cooperating with us,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that these grievous mistakes of the past are never repeated.”

Retired Gen. Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement through the advocacy group Human Rights First opposing any plans to rescind Obama administration policies on torture.

“President Trump’s consideration of a revival of torture does little to change the fact that it is illegal, harms our national security, and betrays our American ideals,” he said. “Furthermore, if President Trump believes that torturing individuals makes our country more safe, that isn’t just an alternative fact, he’s living in an alternative reality. The use of torture is a grave threat to our national security. It puts our troops in danger, makes cooperation with allies more difficult, and is a propaganda boon for extremists intent on harming the United States.”

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