One Promise Trump Plans to Keep: The Return of Black Sites and Torture

In a draft of a new executive order, President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to roll back President Obama’s actions banning the practice of operating CIA “black site” detention centers overseas and the use of torture (or “enhanced interrogation” as it is sometimes misleadingly termed).

Under President George W. Bush’s leadership, one common tactic used in the Global War on Terror involved CIA operatives targeting and abducting individuals from all over the world. Typically, these people with suspected terrorist ties would be apprehended unwittingly and immediately taken to an unofficial prison operated by the American intelligence agency, frequently in a far away nation.

Dubbed “black sites” due to their quasi-legal status, these prisons held people without charges for indefinite periods. During this time, suspects would face intense interrogation techniques that, as it was later revealed during Obama’s presidency, amounted to torture.

Over time, details of the CIA’s human rights-defying torture program spilled out into the public spotlight, revealing the deeply troubling nature of what was being carried out in the name of fighting terror.

Last year, the last round of document releases detailed CIA tactics that included chaining people for long stretches in stress positions. In other instances “awkward boxes” were used; in these, suspects had only enough room to sit cross-legged and were kept there for hours.

Some were placed in coffin-like boxes for up to 18 hours a day.

In other cases, prisoners would be stripped and placed in cells for days without toilet facilities; while some were given adult diapers, others were not so lucky. They were also frequently subjected to sensory torture, in which they were placed in complete darkness while music blared endlessly for days. In many instances, prisoners would also be subjected to extreme cold.

Then, of course, there was the infamous “water boarding” methods, in which a prisoner was forced to undergo simulated drowning.

When knowledge of these controversial practices came out of the shadows, the Supreme Court ruled that even the CIA must adhere to the Geneva Convention – meaning that their black sites and operatives’ actions could very well be viewed as war crimes.

In response, President Bush issued an executive order in 2007 that redefined the CIA’s practices as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and outlined legal loopholes to permit continued black site operation.

Later, under President Obama’s administration, a new executive order sought to almost entirely do away with the troubling ways the CIA and other agencies had been handling terror suspects. More importantly, however, this directive went to Congress as formal legislation, eventually becoming law.

Now, President Trump, following up on his promise to not only bring back Bush-era torture methods but a “hell of a lot worse,” is putting together an executive order that aims to undo Obama’s actions. Trump’s rationale for this, of course, is his continued claims during his campaign that Obama had not been heavy handed enough in fighting terrorism.

Is there any good reason to bring torture back; that is, does it actually work? Unfortunately for Trump, this is not a matter of contention. Not only do those experienced in counter-terrorism consider torture to be fruitless, but science has concluded the same.

Neurologists and psychologists alike have argued what common sense might conclude as well: Though torture may provoke a subject to produce information, that information is often flawed or outright fabricated. In far too many instances, the dangling carrot of an end to the torture will prove so tempting that a detainee will say what his interrogators want to hear.

Perhaps just as problematic is the reality that these practices can provoke “blowback,” a term used by the intelligence community to describe acts of terrorism provoked by American policies or operations.

President Trump’s incoming executive order is not only morally and legally questionable, it’s defiance of logic puts American lives in danger. Fortunately, if he does issue it, it won’t necessarily change intelligence operations overnight.

According to reports, both CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis say word of the drafted order have “blindsided” them. In the past, Mattis has rebuked Trump’s statements about bringing back waterboarding. Speaking with him on the issue, Trump says Mattis asked him to “give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do torture.”

Republican Sen. John McCain, a vocal opponent of torture, has commented on news of Trump’s draft, stating bluntly that “the president can sign whatever executive orders he likes, but the law is the law.”

Without Congress passing a new bill, Trump’s directive could very well end up being little more than posturing.

Photo Credit: innovatedcaptures / Thinkstock

94 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Karen H
Karen H2 years ago

He's got the torture down. It hasn't been a month since the inauguration and we all feel like we've been tortured for years.

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Karen H
Karen H2 years ago

If Trump gets the okay to use torture on people he calls terrorists, how soon will it be before he starts using the tactics on US citizens?

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Roberta G
Roberta G2 years ago

Teresa A...In the 4th sentence of my previous remark, I should have said "So his decrees, his appointments, and his executive actions do not express the will of the MAJORITY OF THE American people. Unfortunately there are those, and you can read their comments on Care 2, who applaud trump's actions. But they were in the voting minority.

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Roberta G
Roberta G2 years ago

Teresa A from Portugal...please do not listen to David F. We citizens of the United States now have a president who embodies many of the qualities of Hitler. Although he received more electoral votes, the truth is 3 million more voters voted - legally - for his opponent. So his decrees, his appointments, and his executive actions do not express the will of the American people. His prejudices against those of another path of faith has affected innocents in this country and throughout the world. We WERE the country of freedom, as you described us. That is disappearing, and like you, most Americans do not know what to expect. Pray that this country may be preserved

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