Trump faces hur­dles to re­in­stat­ing wa­ter­board­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Deb Riech­mann

WASH­ING­TON >> Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump backs wa­ter­board­ing and his pick for CIA di­rec­tor has called those who have done it “pa­tri­ots” not “tor­tur­ers.” Yet a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion faces steep le­gal and leg­isla­tive hur­dles to re­in­state the in­ter­ro­ga­tion prac­tice that sim­u­lates drown­ing.

Un­der a law ap­proved last year, all gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing in­tel­li­gence agents, must abide by Army guide­lines for in­ter­ro­gat­ing pris­on­ers — guide­lines that don’t per­mit wa­ter­board­ing. Those rules are sub­ject to re­view, but it’s not clear if they can be re­vised to al­low the prac­tice.

If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were to try to change the law or the guide­lines, the ef­fort would run into bi­par­ti­san op­po­si­tion in Congress. The most for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cle there would be a fel­low Repub­li­can, John McCain. The Ari­zona sen­a­tor, who was beaten as a pris­oner of war in Viet­nam in the 1960s, adamantly op­poses wa­ter­board­ing. As chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, he would be well-po­si­tioned to block any at­tempt to re­vive it.

McCain has clashed be­fore with Trump, who dur­ing the cam­paign claimed the for­mer Navy pi­lot wasn’t a war hero be­cause he had been cap­tured. At a se­cu­rity con­fer­ence in Canada last week­end, McCain in­di­cated he was ready to take on Trump again as be­gins an­other six-year term af­ter win­ning re-elec­tion.

“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or any­body else wants to do,” McCain said. “We will not wa­ter­board. We will not do it.”

Wa­ter­board­ing and other harsh meth­ods were used in the af­ter­math of the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks to try to ob­tain use­ful in­for­ma­tion from ter­ror­ist sus­pects. Many in­tel­li­gence, mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say the prac­tice is in­ef­fec­tive as well as im­moral. They say it breaks down trust be­tween the sus­pect and in­ter­roga­tors and of­ten prompts a de­tainee to say any­thing to stop the harsh treat­ment.

But Trump, who revved up his sup­port­ers with tough talk against against Islamic State ex­trem­ists, pledged to in­ter­ro­gate ter­ror­ist sus­pects with wa­ter­board­ing and a “hell of a lot worse.”

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work,” Trump said. “Tor­ture works, OK folks?”

Trump’s nom­i­nee for CIA is Rep. Mike Pom­peo, a con­ser­va­tive con­gress­man from Kansas who has crit­i­cized President Barack Obama for “end­ing our in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram,” which Obama did not do. Pom­peo crit­i­cized the re­lease of the Se­nate’s 2014 re­port on harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion of de­tainees and ar­gued that the CIA pro­gram op­er­ated within the law.

“Our men and women who were tasked to keep us safe in the af­ter­math of 9/11 — our mil­i­tary and our in­tel­li­gence war­riors — are ... not tor­tur­ers, they are pa­tri­ots,” Pom­peo said then.

The views of Trump’s other nom­i­nees are more opaque.

Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Re­tired Army Lt. Gen­eral Michael Flynn, has not ruled out the use of wa­ter­board­ing. “If the na­tion was in grave dan­ger from a ter­ror­ist at­tack in­volv­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion, and we had cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als in our cus­tody with in­for­ma­tion that might avoid it, then I would prob­a­bly OK en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques within cer­tain lim­its,” he told Politico in Oc­to­ber.

Trump’s pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral, Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., was one of a few sen­a­tors who voted against bi­par­ti­san anti-tor­ture pro­vi­sions in 2005 and 2015. But in 2008, Ses­sions said: “I am glad we are no longer uti­liz­ing wa­ter­board­ing. I hope we never have to do it again.” That was be­fore the rise of IS mil­i­tants.

And on Tues­day, Trump told The New York Times that he asked re­tired Marine Gen. James Mat­tis, a strong prospect for de­fense sec­re­tary, about wa­ter­board­ing and was sur­prised to hear Mat­tis does not fa­vor it.

Wa­ter­board­ing has been pro­hib­ited since 2009. Two days af­ter tak­ing of­fice, Obama is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing all gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees from us­ing any in­ter­ro­ga­tion method that wasn’t spelled out in the Army Field Man­ual, a mil­i­tary how-to guide.

Want­ing to en­sure that no fu­ture president could tear up the or­der, McCain teamed up with Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., to turn it into law. Their an­ti­tor­ture amend­ment was adopted in a 78-21 bi­par­ti­san vote and be­came law late last year.

The law re­quires the Army to con­duct a re­view of the field man­ual ev­ery three years in con­sul­ta­tion with the at­tor­ney gen­eral, the FBI di­rec­tor and the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence. The first re­view dead­line is Dec. 19, 2017, dur­ing Trump’s first year in of­fice.

It’s not clear if the re­view could re­sult in changes al­low­ing wa­ter­board­ing or other harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods.

The best in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods build rap­port with sus­pects, ac­cord­ing to the High-Value De­tainee Group, a team of the na­tion’s top in­ter­roga­tors who de­ploy to ques­tion de­tainees around the world. The group re­cently is­sued a re­port on the best in­ter­ro­ga­tion prac­tices, based on the lat­est be­hav­ioral and so­cial sci­ence re­search.

Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates have long fought against any re­sump­tion of harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques. They say the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity stands firmly against it and point to a com­ment made this year by for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den. He said: “If any fu­ture president wants (the) CIA to wa­ter­board any­body, he bet­ter bring his own bucket, be­cause CIA of­fi­cers aren’t go­ing to do it.”


President-elect Don­ald Trump walks past a crowd as he leaves the New York Times build­ing fol­low­ing a meet­ing Tues­day in New York.

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