By Mike Martin
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, there has been an influx of protesters to the Washington, D.C., area, and after recent events by the Trump Administration, he has drawn condemnation from many more. In addition to the recent Executive Order temporarily banning travel from seven countries, the Trump administration is reportedly preparing a new executive order that would allow the CIA to reopen “black site” prisons, according to the New York Times. These prisons were used by the CIA during the Bush Administration to detain and torture terrorism suspects but were shut down by President Barack Obama.
President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” would undo many of the other restrictions for handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the Bush administration. These restrictions include President Obama’s directives to close Guantanamo Bay prison, to grant the Red Cross access to all detainees, and to limit interrogators to techniques found in the Army Field Manual.
If undone, the most problematic policy would be that limiting interrogation techniques. In 2015, Congress enacted a statute locking down that rule as a matter of law. However, President Trump could try to change the field manual to the extent permitted, including enhanced interrogation tactics like sleep deprivation. The draft order says that high-level Trump administration officials will conduct several reviews and make recommendations on this topic to Mr. Trump.
That said, support for this draft order would be hard to find, as not even those tied to the Trump administration are in support of this potential executive order. According to Politico, two of the officials who will be in charge of carrying out President Trump’s terrorism detainee policies, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, were “blindsided” by reports of this draft order. While the President has said he will defer to Secretary Mattis in the use of torture, Trump has remained adamant that torture is effective, meaning the matter is by no means settled. It is also not clear, at this point, whether the CIA would be enthusiastic about resuming a role in detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects after its scorching experience over the past decade. And the trouble to find support will not stop there.
The draft order has drawn condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, who pushed to include a provision to limit interrogation tactics in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, was one of the biggest critics, and he has condemned the draft order. McCain stated, “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.” McCain also said that he has received assurances from Pompeo and Mattis that they will comply with the current law when it comes to interrogations.
Truthfully, the resistance to this movement needs to stand firm. The CIA’s former justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness. To this day, there is still no evidence that “enhanced interrogation” methods produced information useful to stopping terror attacks, while there’s plenty of evidence that those subject to torture produced false information in the hopes of ending their ordeals.
It would be a huge mistake to bring back these kinds of practices, as it would undercut American moral standing on the world stage and give our enemies an excuse to do the same to American troops. Trading this out for a practice that has proven to not work would be a step in the wrong direction and would have terrible implications worldwide. We can only hope that the legislative branch remains strong and continues to denounce this practice.
Michael Martin is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. He is also pursuing a specialization in cyber and homeland security through Maryland’s new cyber-security certificate program, and he is pursuing a career in the field of homeland security.