When the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held its confirmation hearing for CIA director Mike Pompeo, not a single senator asked a question about whether President Donald Trump planned to re-open the CIA’s detention network of “black site” prisons. But now, a drafted executive order has reignited concern over whether Trump will restore facilities and reinstate policies, which involved the routine and systematic violation of human rights.
The New York Times and the Washington Post both published copies of the document and stand behind the document as authentic, even though White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared, “It’s not a White House document,” and essentially acted as if it was a fake document.
According to the Post, the document came from a “person who said it had been circulated among agencies in Washington for comment. The immediate feedback, this person said, helped convince the White House counsel that the document needed wider distribution and review before being finalized.” Potentially, the CIA, Pentagon, State Department, and Justice Department had an opportunity to view the document.
The drafted order calls for two key directives President Barack Obama issued in his first days as president to be revoked: the order to close Guantánamo and the order to shut down overseas CIA “black site” prisons, restrict interrogators to the Army Field Manual, and allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees.
It indicates a review would be conducted to assess whether CIA detention facilities should be reopened for “high-value alien terrorists.”
Alarmingly, in an attached “explanatory statement,” the draft condemns the fact that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 provides that the “Army Field Manual should not include techniques using ‘force’ and that it shall be public, and thereby, requires that the United States publicly identify the interrogation techniques it might employ against terrorists in the custody of the U.S. military or intelligence officials.” This is a “statutory barrier to the resumption of the CIA interrogation program.”
It suggests the Trump administration wishes to return to an era, when government officials were able to use torture techniques under the cover of total secrecy.
“We have a man who has been president for less than a week, and as one of his first actions, he wants to take us back into the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration,” former CIA officer John Kiriakou said, reacting to reports on the drafted executive order. “He is telling the American people and the world that he will ignore international law, that he will ignore due process, and reinstitute a program that has been thoroughly discredited.”
Katie Taylor, deputy director of Reprieve, an international human rights organization, declared, “The CIA’s secret prison program was one of the most shameful chapters in recent U.S. history. It saw men, women and even children kidnapped, abused and ‘rendered’ to dungeons around the world—causing untold damage to America’s reputation and security. It is astonishing that President Trump is seeking to turn back the clock and revive a program that did such terrible damage to U.S. interests.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights put out a statement on the “rumored executive order” emphasizing “torture is absolutely prohibited in all circumstances by U.S. and international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. The United States cannot legalize torture by enacting or repealing its laws.”
On the issue of little to no public oversight on CIA detention, rendition, and interrogation policies, Kiriakou added, “This has been an ongoing problem, a problem really for the last 16 years. There is no appropriate congressional oversight on the part of either party. The Democrats have utterly dropped the ball on this just like the Republicans have.”
“The Republicans have been cheerleaders for the torture program. The Democrats have looked the other way, and what we need is real oversight. What we need is members of the House and Senate intelligence committees to have the guts to stand up and say, wait, a minute. This is wrong. It’s illegal, and we won’t tolerate it. And so far we have not seen that kind of leadership.”
Prior to his confirmation hearing, Pompeo filled out a questionnaire, where he was asked if he supported the prohibition against CIA custody of detainees beyond a “short-term transitory basis.” Pompeo answered, “I am not aware of a need for the Agency to undertake long-term detention of individuals, but have not consulted with Agency experts on current operational needs.”
Pompeo was confirmed with the support of 14 Senate Democrats, even though he condemned the release of an executive summary of the Senate’s report on the torture program. He said “intelligence warriors,” who carried out torture,” were “patriots” and the programs were “within the law, within the constitution, and conducted with the full knowledge” of senators, like Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The fact is, the summary of the torture report showed the CIA operated a propaganda campaign to defend its detention and interrogation program. Classified information was leaked to shape public opinion. Criticism was undermined, and Congress was deceived into believing all of the CIA’s conduct was lawful.
According to the torture report, at least 17 of the detainees captured by the CIA were subjected to torture techniques without any approval whatsoever from CIA headquarters. “CIA’s chief of interrogations used water dousing against detainees, including with cold water and/or ice water baths, as an interrogation technique without prior approval.”
The torture report also revealed CIA detainees were subject to “‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.”
In the case of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, the CIA inspector general found he was wrongfully subjected to rendition and detention.
Masri was kidnapped by the CIA while trying to enter Macedonia. He was flown to a “black site” in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit,” where he was held for more than four months. There he endured several beatings.
During his confirmation hearing, Pompeo stated the CIA was out of the “enhanced interrogation business” or that it would not go back to torturing detainees. However, if he shares the view that the Army Field Manual is too restrictive, it is virtually guaranteed methods of torture will be sanctioned by government officials again.
The full 6,300-page Senate torture report remains classified. If ever there was a way to ensure the torture program is not restored, releasing the full report would help. Senator Feinstein could read it into the congressional record from the Senate floor. But she and other Democrats seem content to wait until Obama releases it as one of his presidential papers several years from now.