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President ponders review of terrorist suspect interrogation and black sites

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering an executive order setting up a review of interrogation practices, including whether to re-open so-called "black sites" run by the CIA under the George W. Bush administration.


According to a report by CBSNews.com on a leaked draft of the order, the initiative would reverse executive orders issued by President Obama regarding Guantanamo Bay and interrogation techniques. Those orders were signed on Jan. 22, 2009.

Photo provided by Crown Publishing

The draft order raises the specter of the return of enhanced interrogation techniques. One of those who developed the techniques, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Mitchell, fiercely denied they were torture in a forum at the American Enterprise Institute this past December.

The order also would keep the detention facilities at the U.S. Navy's base at Guantanamo Bay open, saying, "The detention facilities at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, are legal, safe, and humane, and are consistent with international conventions regarding the laws of war."

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. The detainees will be given a basic physical exam by a doctor, to include a chest x-ray and blood samples drawn to assess their health. (DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy)

"If it was torture, they wouldn't have to pass a law in 2015 outlawing it because torture is already illegal, right?" Mitchell asked. "The highest Justice Department in the land wouldn't have opined five times that it wasn't torture — one time after I personally waterboarded an assistant attorney general before he made that decision three or four days later, right?"

When contacted for comments on the draft executive order, Mitchell said, "I would hope they just take a look at it." He admitted he had not been contacted by the Trump administration or the Trump transition team, but pointed to an ACLU lawsuit that made him "damaged goods," but did wish that they would "talk with someone who has interrogated a terrorist."

Senator John McCain campaigns for re-election to the senate in 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

In a statement released after the reports of the draft order emerged, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said, "The Army Field Manual does not include waterboarding or other forms of enhanced interrogation. The law requires the field manual to be updated to ensure it 'complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use or threat of force.' Furthermore, the law requires any revisions to the field manual be made available to the public 30 days prior to the date the revisions take effect."

Mitchell was very critical of McCain's statement, noting that it essentially boils down to relying on terrorists to voluntarily give statements about their pending operations. "It's nuts," he said, after pointing out that counter-terrorist units don't reveal their tactics. He also noted that "beer and cigarettes" or social influence tactics, like those Secretary of Defense James Mattis favored, are not included in the manual.

Detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay during prayer (DoD photo)

Retired Army Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis backed up Mitchell's comments.

"I favor giving the interrogation decisions to those with the need to know.  Not all threats are the same and there are situations where tough techniques are justified," Maginnis told WATM. "I'm not with the camp that says tough interrogation techniques seldom if ever deliver useful outcomes. That's for the experienced operator to know."

Maginnis also expressed support for the use of "black sites" to keep suspected terrorists out of the reach of the American judicial system. He also noted, "Some of our allies are pretty effective at getting useful information from deadbeats."

Senator McCain's office did not return multiple calls asking follow-up questions regarding the senator's Jan. 25 statement on the draft executive order.