WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary James Mattis is opposed to the use of the outlawed enhanced interrogation techniques, which are widely equated to torture, despite President Donald Trump’s apparent support for them, the Pentagon said Thursday.
“Secretary Mattis said in his confirmation process that he will abide by and is committed to upholding international law, the Law of Armed Conflict, Geneva Conventions and U.S. law, and that has not changed,” Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.
Speaking to ABC News Wednesday in his first TV interview as President, Trump said torture “absolutely” works and that the U.S. should “fight fire with fire.”
Trump said he would defer to Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo to determine what can and cannot be done legally to combat the spread of terrorism.
“When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times. Would I feel strongly about waterboarding. As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire,” Trump said.
During Mike Pompeo’s Jan. 12 Senate confirmation hearing, he told lawmakers that he would always comply with U.S. law and couldn’t “imagine [he] would be asked by the president-elect or then-president” to have the CIA torture someone. Pompeo, however, had said before that he favored a return to the enhanced interrogation techniques.
While interviewing for the position of Defense Secretary in November, Trump said Mattis told him that that a “pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers” can do more to get answers from a detainee than torture.
Obama outlawed the techniques and shuttered the black sites via executive order in 2009. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act codified the enhanced interrogation techniques as illegal.
Multiple media outlets reported on a document Wednesday that appeared to be a leaked draft executive order calling for a review of the Army Field Manual, which dictates the legally sound interrogation techniques, and use of secret overseas CIA prisons, known as “black sites.”
The Trump White House disavowed the document Wednesday, hours after it was first reported on.
“It is not a White House document,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “I have no idea where it came from.”
Trump’s comments promoting the enhanced interrogation techniques have been met with criticism in Congress and abroad.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who himself was tortured while a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, said in a statement, “We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, who is set to become the first foreign leader to meet with President Trump on Friday, suggested Thursday that British intelligence sharing could be withdrawn from some operations with the U.S. if torture is reintroduced. May has been under pressure, both domestic and foreign, to make this clear to Trump when the two leaders meet.
“What we think about torture is we condemn it. We do not believe in torture. That position has been clear for some time and that position is not going to change,” May told reporters as she traveled to a retreat with Congressional Republicans in Philadelphia on Thursday.
One of the architects of the CIA program, James Elmer Mitchell, maintained as recently as December that the enhanced interrogation techniques are effective in extracting information from detainees.
“Somewhere between waterboarding and worse and what’s in the Army field manual, I think there needs to be some form of legal — let me emphasize that, legal — coercion to move them along so that you can start using social influence to get them talking again,” Elmer said at an event hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
Elmer expanded that it’s not that detainees confess while being tortured, it’s that detainees are likely to talk between interrogation sessions as they dread the idea of going into another.
“I might ask him where he got his tie. He doesn’t want to tell me. We do an enhanced interrogation thing, and then when it’s over, I say to him, go back to your cell and think about this. This doesn’t have to happen this way. This is your choice. Next time we come out, I’m going to ask you where you got that tie. And if you tell us where you got that tie, this won’t happen again,” Elmer said.
“We don’t want to do this. It doesn’t have to happen. And the next time they bring him out of the cell and the pull the hood off, the first thing we ask him is, where did you get that tie? And if he tells us, no [enhanced interrogation techniques] — none.”