WASHINGTON (NBC News) — Voices from across the world began to express their fear and anxiety Thursday after President Donald Trump claimed he had been advised that torture “absolutely” works.
The president told ABC News on Wednesday night that within the past 24 hours he had asked “people at the highest level of intelligence … ‘does torture work?’ And the answer is yes, absolutely.”
His Pentagon chief and CIA Director reject that, as did Republican leaders meeting in Philadelphia Thursday.
“Torture is not legal. And we agree with it not being legal,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.
Trump’s comments raise the question of whether he would seek to revive practices used under former President George W. Bush after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and that Barack Obama later banned.
Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that involves person’s mouth and nose being covered and large quantities of water poured over their face, simulating drowning. The CIA has admitted using the practice at Guantanamo Bay, including against 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
The United Nations is among a plethora of international organizations that have called for waterboarding to be prosecuted as torture. A Senate report in 2014 concluded that the CIA’s program of brutal interrogations didn’t produce useful intelligence.
What makes Trump’s comments so extraordinary is that even the architects of America’s post-9/11 interrogation program did not call what they were doing torture, which is illegal under both international and U.S. law.
On Wednesday, NBC News confirmed that a draft order was circulating inside the government calling for the study of whether the CIA should get back in the business of capturing and interrogating terrorists overseas. The program launched after 9/11 was banned by Obama because it involved the use of what most people consider torture.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later told reporters that the draft executive order was “not a White House document” and the president had not seen it. Even if Trump did sign such an order, torture is currently banned by law in the U.S. and would require an act of Congress to change it.
Meanwhile, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled his trip to Washington after President Trump signed an executive order authorizing construction of a border wall and repeated his claim that Mexico will foot the bill. White House officials say the president now plans to use a 20-percent tax on Mexican imports for funding.