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  January 26, 2017

Torture as standard operating procedure: Trump's new executive order

Torture isn't a policy matter; it's a legal matter, and torture is illegal, according to Noor Zafar of the Center for Constitutional Rights
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Donald Trump is attempting to pave the way to bring back CIA black sites by way of an Executive Order. They may also be planning to reintroduce torture as a standard operating procedure and start increasing the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Charlie Savage of the New York Times is reporting that the U.S. President is preparing an Executive Order that shall once again unleash some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration that were scaled back by former President Barack Obama.

The Minority Leader of the House of Representatives and former ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, had this to say.

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think that this would be a step backward, and I'm not alone in thinking that what he... the path he's going down is wrong. It is not about our values as a country, and don't ask me, just ask John McCain and others. Any reverting to that again does not support our values, but also endangers our people who are there, whether it's from a security standpoint in the intelligence community, or in the military. So I just think that it's wrong, and I hope that he will rethink it, and I hope he will listen to even some Republican leaders on this subject.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us today to discuss the potential implications of this Executive Order is Noor Zafar from the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Thanks for joining us, Noor.

NOOR ZAFAR: Hi. Good to be with you.

SHARMINI PERIES: Noor, let's begin by discussing the Executive Order first. What's in it that is concerning to the Center for Constitutional Rights? And how do we know that this Executive Order might actually be signed by Trump?

NOOR ZAFAR: Right. There are several things in this Executive Order that are troubling to CCR and members of the legal and human rights community. First is, in it, Trump requires the appropriate intelligence agencies and appropriate people within his administration to review whether or not to reinstate the CIA black site program, which was a program that was administered under the Bush administration whereby the CIA operated secret prisons throughout the world where torture and abusive interrogation techniques were practiced. So this Executive Order seeks to maybe bring that back.

And in addition to that, it also wants to revise the Army Field Manual, which is the current set of laws that kind of confined the interrogation tactics that can be used, and this order seeks to maybe allow more permissive, more abusive interrogation techniques. And then with regard to Guantanamo and U.S. detention policy, the Executive Order wants to stop transfers out of Guantanamo and possibly allow for new detainees to be brought into the prison, something that hasn't happened for a very, very long time.

SHARMINI PERIES: To be clear, the draft order does not directly or immediately reopen any CIA black sites, it's just exploring the possibility, is that clear?

NOOR ZAFAR: Yes. It doesn't immediately reopen them, but it directs the appropriate administration officials and agencies to examine whether or not they can be open.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And so, let's get into the Center for Constitutional Rights' position on this. You've issued a press release. Why are you opposed to even investigating the possibilities of it?

NOOR ZAFAR: Well, I think it's important to state at the outset that torture is not a policy matter, it's a legal matter, and torture is illegal under international law and it's illegal under U.S. domestic law. Under international law, the U.S. is party to the Geneva Conventions and to the Convention Against Torture, both treaties which absolutely prohibit torture. And, domestically, there is legislation in place that also bans torture. For example, the McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits torture and limits the interrogation techniques that can be used on detainees in U.S. custody to those techniques that are outlined in the Army Field Manual -- and it also requires that the Red Cross have access to detainees held in U.S. custody.

So, this is not... you know, torture is not something that Trump and his administration can just reinstate vis-à-vis Executive Orders or vis-à-vis policy. It's legally prohibited. Not to mention the fact that it's extremely immoral and, as Trump's own National Security advisors have suggested, it's ineffective.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And this is actually reversing a former President Obama-issued Executive Order, one that where Mr. Obama directed to close Guantanamo prison and the other was to direct the CIA Prisons to grant Red Cross access to all detainees and limit interrogations to Army Field Manual techniques. So, Trump is attempting to reverse all of this. Why do you think he's trying to do this? Is there any good reason for it?

NOOR ZAFAR: I think it continues to play on the anti-Muslim, xenophobic, Islamophobic platform that he campaigned on, and that he promises to re-enact. There is... it's kind of in keeping with the extremely bigoted and xenophobic policies that brought him to power, and I think even if it's not legally feasible for him to re-enact torture, reinstate some of the most horrendous policies of the post-9/11 Bush era, I think it's pandering, it's politically pandering to the base that elected him.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, some of these undertones in terms of racist, anti-Islamic sentiments, I mean, this is not like it didn't exist before, when President Obama was in power, and suddenly it's come to light, but Trump is actually agitating, aggravating and these orders reinforce it. So, what are the plans for the CCR in terms of countering all of this, and what should we, as, say, media and people listening out there, be doing about it?

NOOR ZAFAR: Right. Well, as a legal advocacy organization, CCR has two approaches to kind of counter and resist and fight back against these horrendous policies that Trump is now going to institute and make good on. One is just continuing to work with the marginalized communities and the communities that are most impacted by these policies, you know, standing as allies and resisting with these communities and building community power.

So, and in addition to this Executive Order on Guantanamo and black sites, there's another purported Executive Order -- instituting the Muslim ban and prohibiting the U.S. from taking refugees. And there were rallies organized throughout the country in solidarity with Muslims and immigrants, protesting these orders and showing support. So CCR was present at the New York rally that was organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to show solidarity and really elevate the voices of the Muslim community and the immigrant community that is targeted by these Executive Orders.

So, one strategy that CCR has is to continue to build power and resist with the communities, and then in addition to that, it's bringing legal challenges to these unconstitutional policies and continuing our fight against the abuses that Trump seems to want to bring back into play.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Noor, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we look forward to having you back.

NOOR ZAFAR: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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