Trump backs off on black sites


Donald Trump has made no secret of the fact that he thinks torture is a great idea and that it works in getting information from people, even though it is a war crime and the evidence suggests that any information generated by it is largely useless. He initially suggested that he wanted to reopen the so-called ‘black sites’, prions that were located overseas where prisoners could be tortured under the direction of the CIA, thus creating a slight distance from direct involvement in war crimes and providing a possible legal loophole.

But it appears that he has now backed off on a draft Executive Order to re-open the black sites, though we do not know if this also means backing off on authorizing torture altogether.

The Trump administration has for now backed off a draft executive order that would have called for a review of whether the United States should reopen overseas “black site” prisons, where interrogation techniques often condemned as torture were used, U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The now-defunct CIA program used so-called enhanced interrogation practices, including simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, that were criticized around the world and denounced by former President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials as torture.

News of the draft executive order last week led to a bipartisan outcry in Congress. The draft plans also met with bitter resistance from the CIA and the military, according to officials in both.

“If the president had ordered us to waterboard anyone, let alone start pulling out fingernails, this place would have started to empty out,” said one longtime CIA officer.

You know things are bad when the CIA, with its awful history, tells the president that he is going too far. The Trump administration is leaking like a sieve as lower level people feel that that is the only way to keep things even partially in check.

One wonders what Trump, who hates to be seen as weak and thinks that reconsidering any idea is a sign of weakness, will feel about reports of him having to back down on this, following his setbacks on immigrants and refugees.

Comments

  1. says

    even though it is a war crime

    Please, Mano, don’t be so gentle on the topic. It is not just a war crime, it’s a federal capital offense and conspiracy to torture is a federal crime that can carry a life sentence. This is not some vague matter for the ICRC court in The Hague – it’s something for which conspirators ought to be arrested immediately by our own justice department. Any DA or federal AG ought to be able to prosecute anyone conspiring to torture. And “harsh interrogation” is clearly covered under US statutes.

    (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
    (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
    (3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

    (a)Offense.—
    Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
    (b)Jurisdiction.—There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
    (1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
    (2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
    (c)Conspiracy.—
    A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

    I’m afraid I’ll seem to be coming over all conspiracy theorist if I mention that the Secret Service bodyguards that normally protect the president are part of the Department of Treasury not the Department of Justice. Anyone sworn to uphold the law would have a duty to have slapped cuffs on Bush (and Obama) for “rendition” and Bush would – under the law – be facing a capital charge for the Afghani prisoners who were beaten and tortured to death at Baghram AFB.

  2. cartomancer says

    Marcus, #1

    I suppose it must look different when you have a background in this sort of thing. From my perspective the phrase “war crime” carries a far greater burden of opprobrium than an offense under any national law. It conjures up the Nuremberg trials, the Holocaust and the worst excesses of the Nazi regime, whereas a criminal offense under national law makes me think of everyday knife murders, arson and stealing. “Capital offense” adds a whiff of barbarism and injustice to the phrase, given that I oppose the death penalty.

    Also, why would pointing out that the Secret Service are a part of the Treasury invite accusations of conspiracy theory? They were founded by Abraham Lincoln to prevent counterfeiting of banknotes, and it was only much later they became involved in keeping presidents safe (ironically Lincoln founded the service the morning of the day he was assassinated – which is quite amusing with hindsight).

  3. says

    cartomancer@#2:
    From my perspective the phrase “war crime” carries a far greater burden of opprobrium than an offense under any national law.

    Interesting point. The US, however, has a history of blowing off international law. For one thing, you have people who are legitimately and clearly war criminals (Bush, Kissinger, etc) who simply opt to stay at home unless they are given guarantees by whatever country they visit that they won’t be hauled off in handcuffs. The US is better at blowing off international law; of course they’re also very good at blowing off US law as well. This isn’t a question of opprobrium – all the opprobrium in the world and $3 will buy a donut. Since it’s US law, it means that any AG or DA who wants to charge them for these serious offenses can.

    Remember, Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to congress – which is certainly not a capital offense or an offense that carries a life sentence. It’s “merely” a felony. Our self-admitted torturers are walking around in a state such that anyone with a badge and a gun could legitimately arrest them. Of course, the blowback would be unbelievable.

    Also, why would pointing out that the Secret Service are a part of the Treasury invite accusations of conspiracy theory?

    Well, it’d be that way if past presidents had figured out that they were committing a capital offense (even Clinton did “extreme renditions” which is conspiracy to commit torture under US law and carries a life sentence) – so they make sure that they’re not surrounded by sworn officers of the law: they’re surrounded by personal bodyguards that are not in principle required to enforce the law.

    it was only much later they became involved in keeping presidents safe

    Right. Why? Why not have federal police?
    Because federal police would have to look the other way when the president commits high crimes and misdemeanors. For example, both Clinton and Nixon were impeached/going to be impeached for crimes that their secret service detail had to have known about. Both presidents attempted to lie about their various actions, but those actions would have required interface with the security detail – it’s not like Monica was smuggled into the oval office rolled up in a carpet. It’s not like Nixon ran the wires to the tape recorder himself…

    The Praetorian Guard2.0 – they say nothing and see everything.

  4. Jean says

    Marcus@#5:

    It’s just that I wasn’t aware that the US position on the death penalty was as ridiculous as that. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. So no, I wasn’t really seriously asking.

  5. says

    Jean@#6:
    I wasn’t aware that the US position on the death penalty was as ridiculous as that

    It really is. I sure as hell am not defending it, either.

  6. Dunc says

    Hmmm… Am I the only one who suspects that the real reason the CIA are objecting to this is that they never actually stopped using black sites, and they don’t want to draw attention to the topic? I have a hard time believing that they’ve suddenly been overcome by conscience…

  7. Mano Singham says

    Dunn @#8,

    That’s an interesting point. But that would mean that the CIA is keeping the black sites secret from the president, otherwise he would not have opened this can of worms.

    Presidents do try to not be directly linked to the CIA’s covert activities so that they can wash their hands and blame it as going rogue when things blow up in their faces, but I think they always know what is going on and give tacit approval. There is usually a classified paper trail since the CIA heads do not want to be left out to dry.

    It may also be that Trump and his advisors decided on this action impulsively before consulting with the CIA and hence did not have the opportunity to get briefed that the order was not necessary.

    I could well be wrong about all of this.

  8. Dunc says

    I think they always know what is going on and give tacit approval.

    I really wouldn’t bet on that… Sure, the POTUS probably knows most of what the CIA is up to, but I would bet that an organisation like that has plenty of secrets too. I would assume that some bits of the CIA are doing things that even the rest of the organisation doesn’t know about. There is a popular aphorism in the military (attributed to Grace Hopper): “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”.

    It may also be that Trump and his advisors decided on this action impulsively before consulting with the CIA and hence did not have the opportunity to get briefed that the order was not necessary.

    That would certainly seem plausible. Or possibly that they did know about it, but assumed that the CIA would be happy for the whole business to be made above-board.

  9. mikeym says

    ” prions that were located overseas”

    It’s not enough that we waterboard them, we also give them mad cow disease? Barbaric!

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