President Donald Trump has said he “absolutely” thinks torture works, but doctors, lawyers for terror suspects, and even fellow Republicans have pledged to oppose any effort to reinstate waterboarding or other banned interrogation techniques.
Such methods are prohibited under US law, but that has not kept the new Republican leader from saying if it were up to him, they would be reinstated — and he would authorize “much worse.”
His comments — first made on the campaign trail, and then again Wednesday in an interview with ABC News — came as a draft executive order allowing the revival of notorious CIA “black site” prisons abroad was circulated by US media.
The now-banned interrogation methods were used in those facilities.
The White House said the document did not originate from its staff, but the backlash over the two developments was swift.
“The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes,” said top Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, said Thursday: “Torture is not legal. We agree with it not being legal.”
Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, called enhanced interrogation “wholly immoral and ineffective” and said America would take a step backward if it attempted to reintroduce waterboarding.
Reviving “a debate around the use of torture and other such crimes only harms the moral standing and national security of the United States,” McKay said.
– ‘Bad dudes’ –
On Wednesday, Trump claimed it was necessary to “fight fire with fire” in the face of the beheadings of Americans and other atrocities by Islamic State jihadists.
“Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump said, without citing any evidence, in an ABC interview when asked for his views on waterboarding and other banned techniques.
Trump did say he would defer to Pentagon chief James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo for guidance on any new pro-waterboarding push.
The practice is banned in the US Army field manual on interrogating suspects, and Mattis and Pompeo have both said they would not support any attempt to revive waterboarding — though Pompeo in recent testimony left some wiggle room, saying he could review the waterboarding ban under certain circumstances.
On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said of Mattis’s prior statements: “That thinking has not changed.”
At the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which Trump wants to load up with “bad dudes,” defense attorneys for the alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks, who are in a military court this week, condemned Trump’s statements.
Their case, first brought in 2008, has been beset with challenges and delays because much of the evidence first originated via “enhanced” interrogation.
For instance, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the terror strikes on New York and Washington, was waterboarded 183 times.
“Torture and due process are essentially mutually exclusive,” said James Connell, the attorney for another defendant, Ramzi Binalshibh.
– ‘Fruit of the poisoned tree’ –
Much of the evidence against the so-called “9/11 Five” remains hidden in a 6,700-page classified government report on torture, which defense teams are infuriated they can’t see, even though the lawyers have security clearances.
The defense must instead rely on the good word of prosecutors that they have provided all relevant evidence.
“The torture, and the classification surrounding the torture, have caused problem after problem in the existing military commissions structure,” Connell said, referring to the bespoke criminal justice system at Guantanamo where detainees — who are considered “unprivileged enemy belligerents” — are only granted some of the legal rights that US federal courts guarantee.
Though the US government has barred information obtained under duress from being used in the commissions, questions remain about whether evidence gathered in subsequent interrogations should be admissible.
Defense attorneys in the case refer to such evidence as “fruit of the poisoned tree.”
In the Guantanamo courtroom on Wednesday, Walter Ruiz, the lead attorney 9/11 suspect Mustapha al-Hawsawi, stood up before the session began and switched his rolling office chair for the hard, leather-bound chair his client was seated on.
Hawsawi then pulled a white cushion from his box of personal possessions and placed that on the softer chair.
Ruiz says Hawsawi needs the extra padding because he suffered massive damage to his rectum during aggressive CIA body searches and “rectal rehydration,” which Ruiz calls sodomy.