Reports early Wednesday claimed President Donald Trump was planning to reverse the ban on CIA black sites holding detainees around the world. These reports ultimately proved untrue, with the White House insisting the memo in question was not genuine, and that they have absolutely no plans to review the black sites policy at all.
The flurry of conflicting reports on the CIA black sites was confusing and ultimately didn’t amount to much in and of itself, but the putative memo did mention a return to torture, and got President Trump talking, and again loudly endorsing the idea of torture.
Trump insisted that he had been assured by several top intelligence officials that torture “works” and that he believes the US has to “fight fire with fire” in the war against ISIS. Trump noted that ISIS routinely tortures, and that it’s unfair the US is “not allowed to do anything,” saying the two sides aren’t “playing on an even field.”
Though Trump presented his comments as deferring to the experts, he also made it very clear he leans toward the idea of torture, saying he wants to do everything that the US can “do legally.” This is in keeping with his campaign rhetoric, which faulted opponents as weak for not being pro-torture.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has been an outspoken critic of the idea of returning to torture, and had reportedly sat down and explained to Trump why torture was a bad idea. At the time, Trump was said to have been “surprised” to learn Mattis wasn’t pro-torture.
It seems that Trump may not have broached the torture subject with a lot of his incoming officials, with CIA Director Mike Pompeo going so far as to assure the Senate that if ordered, he would openly defy calls for the CIA to torture detainees.
Pompeo’s comments went even further, as he expressed surprise at the question, and insisted that he “couldn’t imagine” Trump actually ordering a return to torture. This suggests Pompeo was not expecting torture to suddenly become such a quick, high-profile talking point, let alone that he’d be on the opposite side from the president.