The Trump administration is backing away from its plan to revisit using the CIA to imprison and interrogate terrorism suspects, according to a revised executive order on detention policy that has been shared with senior officials.
A new version of the order has stripped out provisions contained in a previous draft that called for top officials to evaluate whether the CIA should once again operate so-called “black site” prisons and have renewed authority to use coercive interrogation methods, according to a U.S. official and a second person who have been briefed on the matter.
The changes appear to reflect a retreat from a proposal that faced an immediate backlash from members of Congress and some officials in Trump’s administration when a draft of the order was publicly revealed last month.
A senior administration official said that document “was a transition draft” produced before Trump’s national security team was assembled, and that the document “was not under serious consideration by the Trump administration.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive White House deliberations. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
A new draft order under development “seems to have abandoned this idea of reopening the path to CIA black sites and changes to interrogation rules,” said a person who was briefed on the contents of the document. The new draft also does away with provisions that, if signed by Trump, would have revoked orders issued by Obama in 2009 dismantling the CIA program and its overseas prisons.
The development, first reported by the New York Times, is the latest in a series of conflicting signals from the administration on how it plans to approach the treatment of terrorism suspects captured by the United States in operations overseas.
The CIA on Thursday named an agency veteran with extensive ties to the prisons program as deputy director. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Gina Haspel ran a prison in Thailand where senior al-Qaeda operatives were subjected to waterboarding and other methods later denounced as torture. She was also involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of those interrogation sessions.
Trump recently declared that he believes torture is an effective tool for getting information but said he would defer to senior officials in his administration, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, on detention and interrogation policy.
U.S. officials cautioned that the detention order is still under review and could undergo further change before it is presented to Trump for his signature. But human rights groups welcomed the new signal that the White House may not be pushing to revive one of the most controversial programs in CIA history.
“The big picture is that they seem to have heard and responded” to intense opposition from senior lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and officials in the administration including Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, said Elisa Massimino, president and chief executive of Human Rights First.
The new draft appears to preserve some language from the previous document, including a provision that would allow for new prisoners to be detained at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.