CIA head was ‘blindsided’ by waterboarding memo

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·Chief Investigative Correspondent
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  • Mike Pompeo
    Mike Pompeo
    United States Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo was sworn in Monday as director of the CIA. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

CIA director Mike Pompeo was “blindsided” by a draft executive order that could open the door for American intelligence agencies to resume waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” at newly reopened CIA “black site” prisons overseas, according to a source familiar with conversations he has had about the document.

Trump, in an interview with ABC News anchor David Muir released Wednesday night, indicated he is in fact considering reinstating waterboarding because he believes it “absolutely” works. While saying he will rely on Pompeo and Mattis’ advice, Trump told Muir: “We’re not playing on an even field. When they’re chopping off the heads of our people, and other people — when they’re chopping off the heads of people because they happen to be a Christian in the Middle East — when ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

Pompeo, who was confirmed as CIA director late Monday, was never consulted about the draft executive order and was unaware of its existence before it was publicly disclosed by the New York Times Wednesday morning, the source said. Neither was Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has openly disputed the effectiveness of such techniques. Another source disputed that Pompeo used the word “blindsided” in describing his lack of knowledge of the draft order.

The publication of the draft order prompted intense, and bipartisan, criticism from members of Congress who said the executive order, as drafted, would violate federal law and lead to a resumption of discredited interrogation practices that were barred by President Barack Obama during his first full day in office.

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to cast doubt on whether the order represented settled administration policy. “It is not a White House document. I have no idea where it came from,” Spicer told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday. He declined to answer further questions about it, or shed any light on who might have drafted and circulated the document.

The draft order would revoke two Obama directives — one limiting interrogation practices to those codified in the Army Field Manual and banning CIA overseas prisons, and another directing that the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed. (Obama promised to close Guantanamo but was never able to achieve it.) The Army Field Manual in its current form bans torture, but the new order calls for high level policy reviews to determine if there are grounds for “modifications” and “additions” to the document to allow for “safe, lawful and effective interrogation of enemy combatants captured in the fight against radical Islamism.”

The language in the draft order could create particular problems for Pompeo, who appeared to rule out any such steps in response to direct questions by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in his Jan. 12 confirmation hearing.

“If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside the Army Field Manual, would you comply?” Feinstein asked him.

“Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine I would be asked that” by President Trump, Pompeo replied. He noted that he had voted for a law passed by Congress — a defense authorization bill — that limited interrogations to those in the Army Field Manual, and added that he is “deeply aware that any changes to that will come through Congress and the president.”

But in written responses after that hearing, Pompeo appeared to open the door to proposing changes in the Army Field Manual if it was necessary to “protect the country” — a step that would allow the Trump administration to resume techniques that congressional leaders, notably Sen. John McCain, an outspoken critic of torture, intended to ban.

Asked in a written question whether there should be “uniform rules” for military and intelligence interrogations, Pompeo responded in writing: “If confirmed, I will consult with experts at the Agency and at other organizations in the U.S. government on whether such uniform rules are an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country.” If he determined that differences between military and CIA interrogation techniques were necessary, it would be based “on a clear, justified need,” he said, and he promised to consult with the congressional intelligence committees about any such adjustments, “including any required changes to law.”

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