President Donald Trump may order a review that could lead to bringing back a CIA program for holding terrorism suspects in secret overseas “black site” prisons where interrogation techniques often condemned as torture were used, two U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The black sites were used to detain suspects captured in President George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and were formally closed by former President Barack Obama.
Any return to the Bush administration’s initial anti-terrorism tactics – including secret prisons and interrogation methods considered torture under international law – would likely alienate key U.S. allies in the fight against militant groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State, reports Reuters.
The officials said Trump is expected to sign an executive order in the next few days. It would call for a high-level review into “whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States” and whether the CIA should run the facilities, according to a copy of the draft published by the Washington Post.
Reuters could not independently verify the document.
Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer said the draft was not a White House document. The draft published by the Washington Post appeared to have sections missing, suggesting that it may not have been a full version ready for Trump to sign.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said the Trump administration did not write the document.
“My understanding is this was written by somebody who worked on the transition before who’s not in the Trump administration. This is not a product of the administration,” Ryan said in an interview with MSNBC.
Aides to Obama said during his tenure that his prohibition against torture and efforts to close the Guantanamo prison in Cuba helped increase counterterrorism cooperation from U.S. allies in the Arab world.
The now-defunct program’s practices dubbed enhanced interrogation techniques – which included simulated drowning, known as waterboarding – were criticized around the world and denounced by Obama and other senior U.S. officials as torture.
The document ignited a bipartisan outcry in Congress. Many people in U.S. intelligence agencies and within the military are opposed to reopening the harsh interrogation program, according to multiple serving officers.
“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,” Senator John McCain, a Republican who underwent torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said in a statement.
The CIA black sites were located in Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Thailand and Afghanistan.
In 2006, Bush ended the use of harsh interrogation techniques and closed all the black sites except for one in Kabul.
Asked whether he wants waterboarding as president, Trump answered in an interview with ABC News: “I will rely on (CIA director Mike) Pompeo and (Defense Secretary James) Mattis and my group. And 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,” Trump said.
“I want to do everything within the bounds of what we’re allowed to do if it’s legal. If they don’t want to do it, that’s fine. Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.”
Mattis and Pompeo had not been aware such plans were in the works, according to a congressional source.